Jury awards £81m against Kidde for infringing copyright

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The Independent Online

The fire protection group Kidde yesterday revealed that a US jury had awarded $116m (£80.6m) damages against it for copyright infringement, in a lawsuit not disclosed in its recent listing particulars.

The company, however, said the jury's verdict was not adopted by the court, in Norfolk, Virginia, meaning that it would not be implemented.

The award, made against its US subsidiary Walter Kidde, was the biggest civil award in Virginia history and resulted from a claim filed in July last year. It was alleged that Kidde stole the design for a portable fire escape ladder from two young entrepreneurs.

Kidde's listing particulars published in September last year for its demerger from Chubb stated that aside from a claim resulting from a fire at a client's factory "the Kidde Group is not involved in any legal or arbitration proceeding which may have ... a significant effect on the Kidde Group's financial position".

The court heard that Aldo DiBelardino, 32, and Andrew Ive, 33, originally from Britain, came up with the idea – a fold-away light ladder that can be quickly lowered from a window in the event of fire – while they were students at the Harvard Business School. They patented the ladder in May 1998 and formed a company, X-IT Products in Virginia, and began to sell the product. The packaging featured a picture of Mr DiBelardino's sister-in-law and nephew using the ladder.

According to X-IT's account, Kidde approached it to buy the ladder design late in 1998. However, in August 1999, while talks were still ongoing, it found that Kidde was already selling the ladder under its own name. Kidde even used the same picture on the box, the court was told.

Kidde said the damages awarded against it will either be set aside or substantially reduced. According to Kidde, the presiding judge stated that he was "certainly not going to enter judgement" on the jury's verdict. The court has invited the parties to make representations before it enters its judgment.

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