Jon E. Deguilio, District Judge in the United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division, yesterday (September 27, 2011) sought to consolidate five existing legal actions between Elkhart, Indiana-based RV makers Heartland Recreational Vehicles LLC (Thor) and Forest River Inc – two of the largest players in the US RV industry. Four of these actions stem from an original lawsuit – Case 3:08-cv-490 – which was filed by Heartland Recreational Vehicles and claimed that Forest River had allegedly infringed United States Patent No. 7278650 entitled “Travel Trailer Having Improved Turning Radius.”
According to documents filed with the court, Heartland’s US patent 7278650 sought to address the problem caused by the manufacture of short bed pick-up trucks with extended cabs. This design resulted in a decreased distance between the cab of the truck and the front fiberglass cap of the 5th wheel they are towing – significantly diminishing the turning radius of the truck when a 5th wheel is attached and – in some cases – causing the cab of a truck to hit the corner of the 5th wheel in the fiberglass front cap area during sharp turns. To overcome this issue Heartland Recreational Vehicles, LLC engineered a solution by cutting off the corners of the upper front section of the frame which resulted in a 30%+ increased turning radius when attached to a short bed pick-up truck with an extended cab.
In September 2007, Heartland sent letters to two of Forest River’s suppliers, Global Composites and Lippert Components, accusing them of activity that possibly infringed on the ‘650 patent and – in October 2008 – formally filed its Complaint against Forest River Inc., alleging infringement of the said patent. Both the claim – and the original filing of the ‘650 patent application – is disputed by Forest River.
This case has spawned a series of claims and counterclaims by both parties and revealed the ruthless nature of the US recreational vehicle market. One such counterclaim – filed by Forest River – accuses Heartland of improperly using proprietary information and cites an incident in October 2008 when Forest River hosted a private trade show – attended by more than 700 guests from North American and overseas RV dealerships. Forest River reserved several hotels in Mishawaka, Indiana and created an internal business document, called a “Master List,” identifying each trade show attendee and the hotel where they would be staying. Heartland’s employees subsequently visited the hotels reserved by Forest River with envelopes containing documents – to be delivered to the trade show attendees – promoting Heartland’s travel trailers and inviting Forest River trade show attendees to visit Heartland’s place of business in Elkhart that same week. According to Forest River such actions caused, “disruption and confusion among several of Forest River’s guests because of the incongruity and surprising manner in which the envelopes were delivered . . . [and] adversely affect[ed] Forest River’s good will with its dealers and adversely affected Forest River’s sales of its products.”
Let’s hope these two companies can agree to resolve their differences and get back to supporting the national economy by building RV’s rather than lining the pockets of their respective legal teams.
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