Court deals blow to Snap-on case against Harbor Freight

Adelman rules jury not likely to be deceived by similar floor jack design

Snap-on’s patent infringement case against competitor Harbor Freight Tools was dealt a blow earlier this month when a U.S. district court judge denied the company’s motion for a preliminary injunction that would have prevented Harbor Freight from selling its Daytona floor jacks.

The floor jack sold by Harbor Freight.
The floor jack sold by Harbor Freight.

Judge Lynn Adelman determined that while there are similarities between the Daytona jacks and models that Kenosha-based Snap-on Inc. has patents on, “the overall effect of each design on the eye of the ordinary observer is different.”

“The primary difference in the designs is that the patented design presents what might be described as a ‘streamlined,’ ‘light,’ or ‘sleek’ overall appearance, while the accused design gives the impression of being wider, rounder and heavier,” Adelman wrote.

Both companies declined to comment on the case.

Snap-on's floor jack.
Snap-on’s floor jack.

Snap-on filed its lawsuit in September alleging Harbor Freight’s “Daytona 3 Ton Super Duty Floor Jack” infringed on patents tied to its FJ200 and FJ300 floor jacks. Snap-on began selling the FJ200, a 2-ton jack, in August 2014 for $550.50 and the FJ300, a 3-ton model, in March 2016 for $651.25. Harbor Freight began selling its model in August 2016 for $199, although the price has gone as low as $179.

Adelman wrote that to receive a preliminary injunction Snap-on needed to demonstrate it was likely to succeed on the merits of the case. The standard for that was that an ordinary observer would be deceived into thinking the accused product was the same as the patented design. In particular, Adelman noted the similarities needed to be on ornamental aspects of the designs, not functional ones.

“Despite the similarities in the jack saddles and some of the other features viewed in isolation, I doubt that a jury would find that the overall effect of each design on the eye of the ordinary observer is the same,” Adelman wrote, repeatedly returning to the description of the Snap-on jacks as streamlined and the Daytona models as wider and heavier.

An overhead view of the two jacks with Snap-on on the right.
An overhead view of the two jacks with Snap-on on the right.

Adelman also said he didn’t find evidence presented by Snap-on to be persuasive. That evidence included affidavits from potential customers and franchisees who felt the jacks were the same based on visual similarities. The company also presented online comments from users identifying similarities between the two.

“One problem with Snap-on’s evidence concerning the visual similarities between its own jacks and the Daytona is that the evidence is primarily anecdotal and consists in large part of statements made either by biased witnesses (Snap-on’s franchisees) or by unidentified Internet commenters,” Adelman wrote.

He pointed out that the commenters could be Snap-on employees, that it wasn’t possible to know if they were considering only ornamental elements and that some had also identified differences between the two models.

The case now moves forward with Harbor Freight likely to file its answer to Snap-on’s original complaint.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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