Peabody police left in lurch by stun gun patent case

News editor

Karbon Arms Inc. left Peabody Police Department and all of its other customers in a bind at the end of a lawsuit with TASER International over Karbon Arms’ infringement of TASER’s stun gun patents in January.

As part of the conclusion of the lawsuit, in which the company was ordered to pay almost $2.4 million to TASER, Karbon Arms also provided a list of its customers to TASER. Since then TASER has notified Karbon Arms’ customers that continued use of stun guns made by Karbon Arms would be a violation of federal patent law and offered to sell them replacements. Peabody police spent $3,495 and committed $2,220 over the next four years to replace its stun guns.

“Of course the lawsuit between Karbon Arms and TASER may not be automatically binding on Karbon Arms’ customers,” patent attorney Jeff Thompson of Thompson & Thompson Law Office in Scandia said Friday. “Each customer accused of infringement would have the right to their own trial, and could, at least in theory, put up a better defense than Karbon Arms did and win their case. However, as a practical matter, no customer would have enough money at stake to justify their own patent infringement trial.”

Thompson said it is uncommon for customers to be so directly affected by a patent infringement case, because most settlements include a release of liability for customers.

“In my practice I’ve settled several infringement cases, but always with the condition that the purchasers or end users of the accused products are released from any liability and free to continue using the accused products,” he wrote. “The main difference is that my clients were staying in business and wanted to make sure their customers were kept happy.”

On Jan. 15, Karbon Arms posted on its Facebook page that it was closed for business.

Additionally, Thompson said that if Karbon Arms hadn’t gone out of business, its customers could have pursued refunds for the stun guns they had to stop using. Most states have laws that a company must guarantee that the products it sells don’t infringe on others’ patents.

“Unfortunately, Karbon Arms does not appear to be in a position to cover any such warranty claims,” Thompson said.

Douglas Klint, president of TASER, said the company chose not to give police departments the option to buy a license to continue using Karbon Arms stun guns because of safety concerns over their higher electrical output.

Peabody police bought four stun guns from Karbon Arms in 2009 or 2010, Chief Bruce Burke said Monday.

 

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