Outdoor outfitters at odds over outerwear, order overturnedApril 6, 2007

Competing sporting goods retailers Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's faced off in the Federal Circuit. The parties were involved in an earlier patent infringement suit where Bass Pro Shops sued Cabela's for infringing its patent relating to a vest with a "pivotable seat member." The parties settled that suit, and the court entered an order barring Cabela's from selling infringing garments during the life of the patent. Cabela's started selling a modified garment, which it contended did not infringe. Bass Pro Shops (and the district court) disagreed, and Cabela's was found to be in contempt of the order.

The Federal Circuit vacated the contempt order, finding Cabela's redesigned garment did not infringe Bass Pro Shops' patent because it was not a "vest." The preamble of the relevant claims stated that the claimed invention was a "combination vest and pivotable seat member, said vest comprising . . ." The court found that based on the specification and prosecution history, the "vest" limitation was a substantive limitation on the claims, and therefore Cabela's redesign, which was a backpack rather than a vest, did not infringe.

More details of the case after the jump.

The patent at issue claims:

1. A combination vest and pivotable seat member, said vest comprising a fabric to be worn on an upper torso of a user, said vest comprising at least a dorsal member and shoulder support means, said seat member having one end connected to a lower portion of said dorsal member and having straps for being connected to and supported from an upper portion of said dorsal member whereby an effective chair comprised of said seat member and said dorsal member for supporting said user is created, lengths of said straps being adjustable, whereby an angular orientation between said seat member and said dorsal member is adjustable.

Figures 1 and 2 from the patent are representative of the invention:

Cabela's modified its garment to make it so it wasn't a "vest," but instead more of a backpack. The modified garment is pictured below:

Bass Pro Shops argued that because the word "vest" appeared only in the preamble, the claim did not actually require the garment to be a vest. The court disagreed, noting that "[t]hroughout the specification, and in all the claims, the patentee describes the invention as a combination of a vest and a folding seat." In addition, claim 1 as filed did not state that it claimed a vest, but rather a "garment." Thus, both the language of the specification and the prosecution history of the patent supported the requirement that the patent was limited to "vests," and as a result, Cabela's backpack seat did not infringe. As a result, the finding of contempt was vacated.

To read the full decision in Bass Pro Trademarks, L.L.C. v. Cabela's, Inc., click here.

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