Friday, March 22, 2019

Geogrid Patent Valid but not Infringed

Tensar Technologies Ltd v. Enviro-Pro Geosynthetics Ltd 2019 FC 277 Manson J
            2,491,858 / multiaxial geogrids

Geogrids are a heavy duty plastic mesh used for applications such as holding rocks and fill in place in civil engineering projects. The 858 patent relates to multiaxial geogrids, which have a hexagonal rather than rectangular mesh pattern. In this decision Manson J held that Tensar’s 858 patent relating to was valid but not infringed. The decision turned entirely on the facts.

Geogrids were an improvement over the prior art, which primarily consisted of woven or knitted geosynthetics, like a heavy duty landscape fabric. The first generation geogrids had a primarily rectangular form. The multiaxial form had a number of advantages, such as strength in more directions [47], and defendant, Enviro-Pro, lost market share to Tensar soon after Tensar introduced its multiaxial product [61]. Enviro-Pro then reached out to its Chinese supplier of geogrids, TMP, to see if it could make a competing product [62]. In order to avoid infringing Tensar’s patent, Enviro-Pro instructed TMP to make the product according to the prior art Wyckoff patent [63]. Before launch, Enviro-Pro even asked an independent consultant to check a sample of the TMP product to make sure it was manufactured entirely in accordance with the Wyckoff patent. The consultant had been provided with the Wyckoff patent, but not with a sample of Enviro-Pro’s product, and it seems that he did not appreciate the significance of some of the fine points (or even some of the basic points) of the patent [64]. This seems like an instance of failing to consider “where the shoe pinches”.

Because it had taken these steps, Enviro-Pro tried to run a Gillette defence, on the basis that it had manufactured its product in accordance with the prior art. Unfortunately, while TMP may have been instructed to follow the Wyckoff patent, the evidence did not establish it had actually done so [139]. There were significant differences between the teaching of the Wyckoff patent and the material made by TMP and sold by Enviro-Pro [137]. Accordingly, the Gillette defence failed [140].

On claim construction there was one contentious term, “continuous orientation.” Manson J did not entirely accept the evidence of either expert in coming to his conclusion [100]-[120]. This simply illustrates the well-established rule that claim construction is a matter for the Court [70].

On obviousness, Manson J found that the prior art patents all had a significant difference from the teachings of the 858 patent [150]. Manson J took into account the need to avoid hindsight, as well as the actual course of conduct – which had required considerable experimentation by an experienced engineer who brought a novel perspective to bear, having previously designed military armour – and concluded that the differences would not have been obvious to a posita [162].

While the patentee prevailed on validity, Manson J held that Tensar had failed to establish infringement [173-74]. This was not a case in which non-infringement was established. Rather, Manson J had concluded that the element of continuous orientation required a predominant or substantial degree of uninterrupted molecular orientation in a specified area of the grid, and the testing methods used by the patentee where simply incapable of establishing the degree or direction of orientation [171]. There being no evidence to establish infringement, the defendant prevailed on the burden of proof [172]. The defendant also tendered evidence of non-infringement, but that evidence was also deficient [184], [188]. While Manson J considered that the defendant’s evidence offered “some limited additional support” for the conclusion of non-infringement [188], the case was decided primarily on the basis of lack of evidence of infringement.

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