American plastic table manufacturer Lifetime Products Inc. has won its first victory in its patent litigation in Chinese courts, but the company and its Chinese rival, Zhejiang Bestem Furniture Co. Ltd., continue to argue over other claims.
The Shanghai First Intermediate Court ruled April 20 that Bestem infringed on one of Lifetime's Chinese patents for blow molded plastic tables, and ordered the Chinese firm to pay Clearfield, Utah-based Lifetime 200,000 Chinese yuan ($31,800) in compensation.
Lifetime last year won a separate trademark infringement case in Chinese courts against another firm, Zhejiang Lifan Furniture Co. Ltd., for illegally making products with Lifetime's logo.
“More important to us than the monetary compensation [in the Bestem case] is the significance of this achievement of successfully enforcing our Chinese patents in a Chinese court for the very first time,” said Lifetime President Richard Hendrickson in a statement. “Now we have protected both a trademark and a patent in a foreign court, which is a huge milestone.”
But the decision is probably only a partial victory for the U.S. firm.
Bestem, in Hangzhou, China, had previously challenged the validity of four Lifetime patents in China, and the Patent Re-examination Board of China's State Intellectual Property Office agreed with the Chinese firm on three of them and invalidated all three, said Tim Schade, Lifetime's general counsel, in an April 26 interview.
But the patent board upheld Lifetime's fourth patent, and that is the one at the center of the April 20 Shanghai court decision, Schade said.
“The court now has a valid right and they've enforced it,” he said. “We've appealed the decision on the other three patents and those appeals are making their way through the process. I think there are good grounds.”
A Bestem sales executive interviewed April 27 at the company's booth at the Canton Fair, a large trade show in Guangzhou, declined to comment, but the company had previously termed the patent review board's decision a victory.
The patent at issue in the Shanghai court decision deals with a design feature that strengthens corners and edges of the blow molded plastic tables.
The decision requires Bestem to stop infringing, which Lifetime believes means Bestem will have to redesign its molds, Schade said.
Lifetime claims to be the world's largest manufacturer of blow molded polyethylene plastic tables and chairs. It also has a factory in China's Fujian province.