June 21, 2018

No Littoral Infringement; Plaintiff Still Waiting for its Ship to Come In

By Bryan K. Wheelock, Principal

In FastShip, LLC v. U.S., [2017-2248, 2017-2249] (June 5, 2018), held that the U.S. Government did not infringe U.S. Patent Nos. 5,080,032 and 5,231,946 because the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship allegedly covered by the claims was not “manufactured” by or for the Government before the patents expired.

A patent owner cannot sue the U.S. government or its suppliers for patent infringement.  Instead  28 U.S.C. § 1498(a) gives the patent owner a cause of action for the use of the patent.

A representative claim from plaintiff’s patent requires:

  • A vessel comprising:
    • a hull having a non-stepped profile which produces a high pressure area at the bottom of the hull in a stern section of the hull which intersects a transom to form an angle having a vertex at the intersection and hydrodynamic lifting of the stern section.
    • at a threshold speed without the hull planing across the water at a maximum velocity determined by a Froude Number, the hull having a length in excess of 200 feet, a displacement in excess of 2000 tons, a Froude Number in between about 0.42 and 0.90, and a length-to-beam ratio between about 5.0 and 7.0;
    • at least one inlet located within the high pressure area;
    • at least one waterjet coupled to the at least one inlet for discharging water which flows from the inlet to the waterjet for propelling the vessel;
    • a power source coupled to the at least one waterjet for propelling water from the at least one inlet through the waterjet to propel the vessel and to discharge the water from an outlet of the waterjet; and
    • wherein acceleration of water into the at least one inlet and from the at least one waterjet produces hydrodynamic lift at the at least.
    • one inlet which is additional to the lifting produced by the bottom of the hull in the high pressure area which increases efficiency of the hull and reduces drag.

On May 18, 2010, when the patents-in-suit expired, one ship (the LCS-1) was completed and in use by the Navy, but a second ship (the LCS-3) was still under construction.  The Court of Federal Claims awarded plaintiff $6,449,585.82 in damages for LCS-1, but no damages for LCS-3, and plaintiff appealed.

The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that the undisputed facts demonstrate that LCS-3 was not “manufactured” when the patents-in-suit expired in May 2010. The Federal Circuit said that the asserted claims disclose a vessel comprising “at least one waterjet coupled to the at least one inlet for discharging water which flows from the inlet to the waterjet for propelling the vessel,” while the record demonstrates that all four waterjets and impeller shafts were installed  in July 2010.  Moreover, the claims also required a hull, which was not completed until the erection of the bow module  . during August 2010,” at the earliest.

The Federal Circuit affirmed the denial of an award for LCS-3 ship, and upped the award for LCS-1 to $7,117,271.82.