Milwaukee Tool awarded $27.8 million in case against Snap-on

Kenosha tool maker vows to appeal

The Milwaukee Tool headquarters on Lisbon Road in Brookfield.

Brookfield-based Milwaukee Tool was awarded $27.8 million by a federal jury Thursday in a three-year long patent infringement case against Kenosha-based Snap-on Inc involving lithium ion batteries.

The Milwaukee Tool headquarters on Lisbon Road in Brookfield.

The verdict came after a nine-day trial and a half day of deliberations. The jury determined the award was a “reasonable royalty” after determining Snap-on had likely willfully violated elements of three different Milwaukee Tool patents.

“We strongly disagree with the jury’s verdict and plant to vigorously appeal,” Snap-on on spokesman Rick Secor said in an email.

Secor said Snap-on had no additional comment as it was still an ongoing legal matter.

Milwaukee Tool released a statement stressing the company’s commitment to innovation.

“The introduction of Lithium-Ion technology to the professional power tool industry was groundbreaking and resulted in multiple patents for our company that we continue to aggressively defend. Yesterday’s jury verdict by the federal court affirms Milwaukee Tool’s leadership in new-to-world technology in cordless tools for the trades,” the statement said.

Milwaukee Tool filed the lawsuit in October 2014 and on the same day filed seven other lawsuits related to battery patents against the makers of other power tool brands including Kobolt, Masterforce, Craftsman, Hilti, Genesis, Greenworks, Max, Festool, Rockwell and PerforMax. Those lawsuits were all settled or dismissed over the last several years.

Milwaukee Tool introduced the first lithium ion power tools in 2005, replacing nickel cadmium batteries that were either too heavy or did not have enough power to be commercially viable. Since the introduction of lithium ion batteries in power tools the batteries have become an industry standard and helped fuel the resurgence of the Milwaukee Tool brand.

The Snap-on lawsuit alleged the Kenosha company infringed on Milwaukee Tool’s lithium ion battery patents on products including impact wrenches, cordless screwdrivers, hammer drills and adhesive guns.

But 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.

“Snap-on does not believe, that there was anything inventive about using a Li-ion cell in a high-powered cordless tool battery pack. But assuming … there is an invention here, Moli conceived of it, and not (Milwaukee Tool),” Snap-on attorneys wrote in seeking a summary judgment.

The court ultimately ruled against Snap-on and the case went to trial where Milwaukee Tool won its jury award.

Snap-on has had other legal rulings not go its way this year as well. The company’s most recent earnings release included a $15 million charge related to a labor dispute. The company is appealing. A patent infringement case Snap-on brought against Harbor Freight over floor jacks was settled. A Harbor Freight spokeswoman said the company would be able to continue selling its jacks and wouldn’t have to pay Snap-on anything.

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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.