The future looks bright for Lutron Electronics Co., which won a major victory at the U.S. International Trade Commission in a patent fight over lighting dimmer switches.
It’s not as if the Coopersburg, Pa.-based company hasn’t been to the ITC before – this is the fourth suit Lutron has filed there complaining about infringing dimmers.
The company finally got what it wanted yesterday, when the commission granted Lutron a general exclusion order barring the importation of all infringing light switches, regardless of who made them or where they’re from.
Represented by Adduci, Mastriani & Schaumberg, Lutron won its previous three cases, but was only granted limited exclusion orders, which bar importation of products by the specific infringers named in the suit. The problem was, it didn’t stop the flow of copycat goods.
“Previous investigations have not deterred a steady stream of infringers from entering the U.S. market and, in fact, Lutron has already seen a previously named respondent openly disregard a consent order by selling infringing dimmer switches under its own name as well as through a related company,” wrote Lutron counsel V. James Adduci II and co-counsel James Herschlein of Kaye Scholer.
Lutron filed the most recent suit in May 2011 against 10 companies (though two were actually one entity).
One of the companies, New York’s Pass & Seymour, retained Fish & Richardson and settled the case, as did AH Lighting, which tapped Los Angeles-based solo practitioner Kenneth Ralidis.
Elemental LED/ Diode LED of Emeryville, Calif. initially fought back, hiring Arnold & Porter partner Michael Berta. But seven months into the case, the company threw in the towel, “having considered the ongoing burden and expense of participation in this investigation,” and defaulted, according to court papers. The other companies didn’t response to the ITC notices and were also deemed to be in default.
For Lutron’s lawyers, the key issue became the remedy.
Lutron argued a general exclusion order was the only solution. “The conditions are ripe for the circumvention of a limited exclusion order and the appropriate remedy is a general exclusion order,” the company lawyers wrote.
However, Lisa Kattan, a staff attorney from the ITC’s Office of Unfair Import Investigations, argued that a general exclusion order wasn’t necessary. Administrative Law Judge Theodore Essex agreed. In his initial determination, Essex found Lutron’s evidence was insufficient to meet the heightened standard for a general exclusion order.
Essex wrote that he was not persuaded that the barriers to enter the dimmer marker were low (making it easy for new infringers to pop up) or that there were numerous potential entrants. He faulted Lurton for relying on “mere speculation and conjecture,” and he issued a limited exclusion order.
However, the ITC’s six politically appointed commissioners review all ALJ decisions. While the commissioners often scale back the judges’ findings, in this case, they expanded them.
“The Commission has determined the appropriate form of relief is…a general exclusion order prohibiting the unlicensed entry of lighting control devices,” they wrote without offering further explanation.
“Lutron is pleased with the ITC decision granting a general exclusion order,” said general counsel Walter Peake. “Innovation and R&D investment have been at the core of the company since it was founded 51 years ago. Today we are also investing substantial resources enforcing our intellectual property against foreign-made products. We congratulate the commission in recognizing our challenge and supporting domestic industry. “
Jenna Greene can be contacted at email@example.com.