Troutman Sanders LLP: Judge Spencer Denies Preliminary Injunction in Crock Pot Patent Fight

By Dabney Carr

Those of you planning to give a Crock Pot® Cook & Carry Slow Cooker as a Christmas gift can breathe easy. Judge Spencer has denied Hamilton Beach's bid for a preliminary injunction to bar sales of the Sunbeam product for infringing Hamilton Beach's patent on a clip to prevent the lid of the cooker from sliding off during transportation. Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc. v. Sunbeam Products, Inc., Case No. 3:11CV345 (E.D.Va. Aug. 15, 2011) (Spencer, J.). The Order denying the injunction can be found here.

As is typical in the Eastern District of Virginia, the preliminary injunction process moved swiftly. The patent at issue, U.S. Patent No. 7,947,928 ("the '928 patent") issued on May 24, 2011, and Hamilton Beach filed its Complaint and Motion for Preliminary Injunction the same day. The parties conducted discovery and briefed the motion and a hearing on the motion was held less than three months later, on August 11.  Judge Spencer issued his Order only four days later.

The '928 patent is generally directed to and claims a slow cooker comprising, among other things, a lid with a gasket and at least one over-the-center clip that includes a hook and a catch to selectively retain the lid in a sealing arrangement. According to its own pleadings, Hamilton Beach prosecuted the '928 patent with the intent of capturing Sunbeam's Cook & Carry slow cooker within the claims of the patent. 

The hook and catch design of the patented clip, however, appears similar to clips commonly used on all sorts of products, and Judge Spencer agreed that Sunbeam had raised substantial questions concerning both infringement and validity of the patent-in-suit. Hamilton Beach also failed to show any irreparable harm, as its claimed damages - loss of sales, shelf space and market share - could all be remedied by money damages.

It is not known whether Hamilton Beach will immediately appeal Judge Spencer's decision. One appeal point, given recent Supreme Court and Federal Circuit decisions we wrote about here, may be whether a "substantial question" of invalidity, as Judge Spencer found, is sufficient to withstand a request for a preliminary injunction. If there is no appeal, a Markman hearing is set for November and trial is scheduled for next March.

This case is also not likely to be the last fight between these long-time competitors. Sunbeam and Hamilton Beach have litigated several cases against each other, including two prior cases in the Eastern District of Virginia. Sunbeam Products, Inc. v. Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc. Civil Action No. 3:09cv791-REP; Hamilton Beach Brands, Inc. v. Sunbeam Products, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:10cv507-REP.

Copyright © 2011, Troutman Sanders LLP

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