Kidde drops US patent law suit

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Kidde, the fire equipment group which is fighting a $116m (£81m) US court damages award against it for breaching a contract with another company, X-IT Products, yesterday revealed that it had dropped a counter-suit against X-IT.

A spokesman for Kidde, which reported that the case has cost the company £2.6m in legal expenses, said the counter-suit – called a declaratory judgement action – had been withdrawn "without prejudice".

X-IT, a tiny US company with just one full-time employee, had taken Kidde to court for allegedly copying its design for a portable fire escape ladder.

In August last year, a jury in Norfolk, Virginia awarded $116m against Kidde. The judge in the case is now due to issue an order on the amount of damages he deems appropriate. Shortly after that jury verdict, X-IT's patent application, which had been pending for some time on the ladder, was granted.

Kidde quietly filed a case in another court against that patent.

Bob Tata, X-IT's lawyer, said: "Kidde was seeking to have the patent declared invalid but that action was never served on us."

X-IT said it was news to the company that Kidde had now dropped this action but it noted that the ploy could be re-activated at any time. Aldo DiBelardino, the ladder's inventor and X-IT's chief executive, said: "They are simply trying to litigate us out of existence. We are a small company and they have very deep pockets."

Separately, Kidde yesterday issued a trading update. The company, run by the chief executive Michael Harper, saw a 25 per cent drop in demand for civil aerospace aftersales care in October, with some recovery in November and December.