In a recent case involving competitors in the market of storm water chambers, underground structures for the collection and management of rain and snow storm water, the District of Connecticut court denied a motion for preliminary injunction, reasoning in part that there was too long of a delay between when the plaintiff, StormTech, learned of the infringement and when it filed the lawsuit and motion for preliminary injunction. The delay weighed against a finding of irreparable harm, according to the opinion by Judge Alfred V. Covello.
The parties are both in the business of storm water chambers, chambers installed several feet below ground, often beneath roadways with transient loads passing over, to collect water from storms. According to StormTech, it developed an improved storm water chamber design featuring specialized corrugation patterns in the walls to meet these market needs. This design culminated in the issuance of U.S. Patent No. 8,672,583 (the “’583 patent”) in March 2014.
In the lawsuit, filed in late 2015, StormTech alleged that Cultec learned of its patented technology at least through trade shows and when the U.S. Patent and Trademark office cited the ’583 patent as prior art during the prosecution of a Cultec design patent. StormTech also alleged in its complaint and motion for preliminary injunction that Cultec copied its patented design because of its improved properties and proceeded to sell it to consumers. Cultec’s primary defenses are grounded in its belief that the ’583 patent is invalid and that the ’583 patent is unenforceable due to inequitable conduct during patent prosecution.
Courts generally employ a four-factor test when determining whether a patent plaintiff is entitled to injunctive relief. The test requires a plaintiff to establish: (1) that the plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) that the plaintiff is likely to suffer irreparable harm; (3) that the balance of equities tips in favor of the plaintiff; and (4) that the imposition of injunctive relief is in the public interest.
Here, the court determined that StormTech failed to meet its burden for injunctive relief. Though in its preliminary injunction motion, StormTech advanced a number of theories to support its allegations that Cultec’s infringement resulted in irreparable harm, including loss of competitive edge, exclusive market position, business stability, and customer goodwill, the court found these allegations to be conclusory and unsupported. The evidentiary support StormTech was able to muster, in the form of declaration evidence from the company’s general manager, was unpersuasive to the court, because although the evidence may have suggested a likelihood of some harm from Cultec’s infringement, there was no indication that monetary damages would be inadequate to compensate StormTech for such harm.
Judge Covello appeared to also credit Cultec’s argument that the passage of time between when StormTech learned of the infringement and StormTech’s filing of the lawsuit (nine months) weighed against a finding of irreparable harm. In its opposition to StormTech’s motion, Defendant Cultec approached this argument in two ways, arguing that laches should apply and operate to foreclose plaintiffs from requesting preliminary relief, and alternatively that StormTech’s delay in filing the lawsuit and moving for a preliminary injunction demonstrated a lack of urgency tending to show that any alleged harms were not truly irreparable.
While the court did not address Cutec’s laches argument, it agreed that StormTech’s delay weighed against the imposition of the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction. The decision highlights that a plaintiff’s significant delay in taking action after learning of another party’s infringing activities creates risk that a court will interpret such delay in ways that disfavor preliminary injunctive relief.
The case is StormTech LLC, v. Cultec, Inc., No. 3:15-cv-01890, in the District of Connecticut. A copy of the opinion can be found here.