Court won’t triple Milwaukee Tool’s $27.8 million award against Snap-on

Judge rules company can receive some pre-judgment interest

The Milwaukee Tool headquarters on Lisbon Road in Brookfield.

Brookfield-based Milwaukee Tool will receive some additional interest after a jury awarded it $27.8 million in a patent infringement case against Kenosha-based Snap-on Inc., but a federal judge declined to potentially triple that award.

The Milwaukee Tool headquarters on Lisbon Road in Brookfield.

The case involves patents on lithium ion battery technology developed in the mid-2000s. Developing more powerful cordless power tools has fueled Milwaukee Tool’s growth for more than a decade. The company has sued a number of other toolmakers in recent years and reached settlements or license agreements.

“The worst that can be said of Snap-on’s entire course of conduct is that it did not sufficiently research at the outset whether it needed to take a license to the patents-in-suit,” Judge J.P. Stadtmueller wrote in his opinion. “The jury’s verdict reflects that Snap-on should have taken a license like every other competitor. But there is no reason to layer additional punishment atop this error. The jury’s verdict is enough.”

Snap-on argued in court filings leading up to the trial that Milwaukee Tool’s claims were invalid because Canadian battery maker E-One Moli Energy had actually developed the technology and brought it to Milwaukee Tool. Moli eventually gave up its patent ownership rights in 2006 and established a license agreement with Milwaukee Tool.

Stadtmueller could have increased the award to $83.4 million and noted while some factors suggested an increase was warranted, the action should be reserved for egregious cases. He also denied Snap-on motions for a new trial.

Milwaukee Tool was granted a portion of its request for pre-judgment interest, but Stadtmueller sided with Snap-on in ruling the lawsuit could have been filed sooner. He said it may have been a “smart tactical decision” by Milwaukee Tool to go after larger companies first, “but that decision had consequences.”

“The court will not be left to speculate as to the business rationale where plaintiffs’ delay needlessly inflated the potential pre-judgment interest sum by nearly $5.5. million,” Stadtmueller wrote and asked the two sides to submit a calculation for the interest payment.

Lawyers for the companies submitted a joint calculation last week that would award Milwaukee Tool roughly $3 million in interest.

Despite the rulings from Stadtmueller, the case is likely far from over. Snap-on has said it plans to appeal and filed a motion Wednesday asking for a stay of the judgment pending appeal.

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Arthur Thomas
Arthur covers manufacturing for 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.