Washington — A Cleveland federal district court must consider a Czech company's patent infringement lawsuit against Goodyear, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has ruled.
The US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio erred in dismissing the complaint by Coda Development sro and its CEO, Frantisek Hrabal, against Goodyear in a case involving technology for self-inflating tires, the appeals court ruled in a 22 Feb decision reversing and remanding the lower court's decision.
According to the complaint, officials of General Motors Co. approached Coda in 2008, expressing interest in the self-inflating tire system invented by Hrabal.
At GM's suggestion, Goodyear approached Coda to suggest a collaboration on the project.
Both companies signed a non-disclosure agreement restricting the use of Coda's proprietary information, the complaint said.
Goodyear had reservations about Coda's technology, because of a failed previous project concerning self-inflating tires, the complaint said.
Nevertheless, the two companies met and agreed to continue discussions, it said.
After a second meeting in Prague in June 2009, Coda did not hear again from Goodyear and assumed the tire maker lost interest.
However, in September 2012, an ex-Goodyear employee informed Coda that Goodyear had received a patent on self-inflating tire technology in October 2011.
Hrabal and Coda sued Goodyear in the Northern Ohio court in August 2015.
The plaintiffs asked to have Hrabal added to the patent as an inventor of the self-inflating tire technology, and to have two Goodyear officials removed.
They also asked to have Hrabal listed as an inventor on 11 other Goodyear patents related to self-inflating tires.
Goodyear moved for dismissal, arguing that Coda and Hrabal had failed to plead facts supporting their claims.
The tire maker cited a November 2008 article by Hrabal that it said publicly disclosed everything proprietary about his invention.
Coda moved to strike the Hrabal article on the grounds that it was outside the pleadings; simultaneously, it requested leave to file a sur-reply addressing the arguments arising from the Hrabal article.
The district court denied Coda's motion and granted Goodyear's motion to dismiss.
The district court ruled that the Coda complaint did not plausibly show that Hrabal was the sole inventor of the technology, according to the appeals court's 22 Feb remand.
It also denied a proposed amended complaint from Coda that offered additional factual allegations, it said.
The appeals court ruled that Coda's claims for correction of inventorship were plausible.
"The complaint describes Goodyear's prior failures with inflation technology," the court said.
It also describes how a Goodyear official — one later named as an inventor on Goodyear self-inflating tire patent — requested time alone with Coda's prototype, it said.
The district court also erred in saying the statute of limitations had run out under Ohio law on Coda's claims, the appeals court said.
"Plaintiffs might have assumed Goodyear lost interest in the technology, given its previous failed investment," it said. "Or they might have thought that Goodyear would honour the nondisclosure agreement."
Coda's attorney and Goodyear officials did not respond immediately to requests for comment.
Goodyear displayed a truck tire at the 2012 Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) Commercial Vehicle Show in Hannover, Germany, that incorporate self-inflating technology, which Goodyear dubbed "Air Maintenance Technology" (AMT).
Goodyear at that time claimed its AMT mechanism allows tires to maintain constant, optimum pressure without the use of external pumps, electronics and driver intervention.
The technology was also said to provide improved fuel economy, prolonged tread life and optimised tire performance.
Later that year, Coda said it had signed a commercial licensing agreement with a "major Asian tire producer," but company principals declined to identify the Asian company then and haven't commented publicly on it since.