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Riddell Granted Summary Judgment in Helmet Rival’s Patent Infringement Suit

General / Jun 23, 2019

Article by Clyde Shuman

A federal judge in Illinois has granted the summary judgment motion of Riddell Inc., finding two patents asserted against it relating to aspects of a football helmet to be not infringed and a third patent to be invalid.

In Kranos IP Corp. et al. v. Riddell Inc., case number 1:17-cv-06802 (N.D. Ill.), Kranos IP and two related companies sued the football equipment behemoth Riddell for infringement of three patents owned by Kranos Corp., which sells football helmets under the name Schutt Sports. The court dismissed Riddell’s counterclaim that one of the patents was unenforceable on the basis of inequitable conduct, and subsequently issued a claim construction ruling, construing six terms, including two terms relevant to Riddell’s summary judgment motion: the court held that the claim term “outer shell” requires both an inner and an outer shell; and that the claim term “offset” is given its plain and ordinary meaning, with the clarification that an offset can be either inward or outward. Riddell moved for summary judgment that asserted U.S. Patent No. 6,434,755 was invalid as anticipated and that asserted U.S. Patent Nos. 9,498,014 and 8,499,366 were not infringed by Riddell’s helmets. Plaintiffs cross-moved for summary judgment of infringement of all three patents.

For the ‘014 patent, the court noted that the claims include the term “outer shell,” construed to require both an outer and an inner shell. The parties disputed what constituted an “inner shell.” The court agreed with Riddell, construing “inner shell” as a hard, protective covering that distributes an impact load. Because the flexible liner in Riddell’s SpeedFlex helmets is made of material that is soft and malleable, the court held that no reasonable jury could find that those helmets contain an inner shell.

For the ‘366 patent, the asserted independent claim recited a football helmet with a raised central channel “wherein a front portion of the central channel is at the front edge.” The parties agreed that “at the front edge” required the raised central channel to extend all the way to the front edge of the helmet. For Riddell’s SpeedFlex helmets, the court found that the central channel extends only as far as a bendable panel in the shell, which ends about two inches from the front edge. For Riddell’s 360 helmets, the court found that transition walls that demarcate the raised central channel end about two inches from the front edge of the helmet. Per the court, beyond that point, the central channel cannot reasonably be considered to be “raised.” For Riddell’s Speed-Shell helmets, the court found that at approximately the same place that the transition walls on the SpeedFlex and 360 models terminate, the transition walls that define the central channel on the Speed-Shell helmet angle outward toward the sides of the helmet, fading into the shell and terminating near a bead that borders the helmet’s front edge. The court held that “even if a jury reasonably could find that the central channel extends all the way to the bead, the bead is not the front edge of the helmet… A raised central channel that terminates at the top of the bead therefore does not extend all the way to the front edge of the helmet.” As a result, the court held that Riddell’s helmets did not infringe the patent.

Finally, for the ‘755 patent, the court agreed with Riddell’s argument that two prior art football helmets anticipated claim 11 of the patent, which required “an offset…for increasing the flexural resistance of the shell, wherein the offset extends substantially between the ear holes.” The court rejected the testimony of Plaintiffs’ expert, saying “circular reasoning is not sufficient to withstand summary judgment.”

The court directed the Clerk to enter judgment in favor of Riddell and against Plaintiffs, and vacated the trial date and all other dates and schedules. (Editor’s Note: Since this summary was written, a federal jury awarded Riddell $5 million.)