Conrad O. Gardner is a Washington state engineer and patent attorney and the named inventor on eight patents, several of which relate to hybrid vehicle technology.
Gardner recently sued Toyota Motor Corp. (Toyota) in federal court in Seattle, accusing the automaker of infringing U.S. Patent No. 7,290,627 (’627 patent), entitled “Extended Range Motor Vehicle Having Ambient Pollutant Processing” by making and selling the second generation Prius, the Camry and the Highlander.
Last month Gardner filed a second amended complaint (complaint) in the suit. The complaint (gardnercomplaint.pdf) notes that the ’627 patent has a very early priority date (based on a parent patent application filed back in April 1992) more than two years before Toyota began investigating the development of a commercial hybrid autombile.
Gardner accuses Toyota of having knowledge of his patented technology as early as January 1994. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO) cited a Gardner patent against one of Toyota’s hybrid technology patent applications during prosecution of the Toyota application.
The Gardner complaint is interesting in that it provides a user-friendly infringement analysis by going through the ’627 claim limitations and identifying the allegedly corresponding structural or functional elements in the Prius.
The ’627 claims are directed to a hybrid vehicle control system which controls the relative contribution of driving force from an internal combustion engine and an electric motor by sensing the vehicle’s speed and transferring the driving force contributions accordingly.
Although the ’627 claims don’t sound like cutting edge technology today (the patent issued in November of 2007), remember that the original filing date of the ’627 patent family dates back to 1992. As long as the ’627 claim elements were present in the disclosure of that original application and the patent family continuity chain wasn’t broken, then patentability is determined by comparing the claims to the state of the art in 1992.
In that case, all of the technological advances made since are irrelevant to the validity of the ’627 patent claims. On the validity issues, Toyota probably will try to show that the original parent application’s disclosure does not support the ’627 claims and/or try to break the chain of priority that goes back to the 1992 filing date.
As I’ve tried to highlight in the picture above, Gardner drafts and prosecutes his own patents. In addition to Gardner’s potential financial remuneration from a win against Toyota and his inventor’s pride, if the ’627 patent holds up in court Gardner can also take great pride in his patent drafting skills.