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Court Upholds Building Panel Patent

Monday, February 24, 2014

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Two Pennsylvania makers of architectural metal wall and roof systems have resolved their long-running patent litigation over the design of one of the companies' leading products.

CENTRIA and ATAS International Inc. "have come to terms in a confidential settlement" of a lawsuit filed by ATAS over CENTRIA's patented Concept Series of wall cladding panels, CENTRIA announced Feb. 17.

The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office’s Patent Trial and Appeal Board rejected ATAS's challenge to the design as well as ATAS's request for a rehearing in the case, effectively upholding the CENTRIA design.

CENTRIA Concept Series AtriscoHeritage
Albuquerque Public Schools

CENTRIA's Concept Series Concealed Fastener Panels are used on Atrisco Heritage High School in Albuquerque, NM.

Since that ruling in September, the companies have agreed to resolve pending patent litigation in the U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania.

Under the settlement, "ATAS will cease the sale of the accused products and others within the scope of CENTRIA’s patent," CENTRIA said.

Dueling Designs

CENTRIA filed its U.S. Design Patent No. D527, 834 on Jan. 15, 2010.

ATAS called the design unpatentable, saying it had produced a similar panel, the BKR160, since 2002.

The Concept Series features concealed fastener panels in a variety of profiles, metal substates, surface treatments and colors. The panels feature various asymmetrical patterns of raised and recessed areas, with the recessed areas bounded by angled portions of different angles.

ATAS's BKR160 has three recessed areas and four raised areas of roughly the same width, bounded by angled portions having different angles.

ATAS contended that the number and placement of the recessed areas did not affect patentability, and says that aspects of its BKR160 design and the CENTRIA design are "virtually identical."

CENTRIA Concept Series
US PTO (top); CENTRIA (bottom)

The top row shows ATAS's BKR160 Panel, introduced in 2002. The bottom row shows CENTRIA's Concept Series panel. Relying on the impression of an "ordinary observer" (in this case, an architectural professional), the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board upheld CENTRIA's patent.

ATAS argued that CENTRIA's design was unpatentable because CENTRIA "has admitted that a panel having one recessed region is patentably indistinct from a panel having two recessed regions."

ATAS also cited several other building panels it had made as having similar characteristics.

The Appeal Board disagreed.

Measuring 'Obviousness'

The test in such design disputes, the board said, is the impression of "the ordinary observer."

In other words, if the observer—in this context, a commercial architect, contractor, engineer and/or project manager—is fooled by the designs' similarities or considers them virtually identical, the patent board would, too.

Drawing on previous design litigation between Apple Inc. and Samsung, the patent board said that the test "is obviousness—whether the overall appearance is basically the same and whether the differences are either minor between the embodiments or obvious to a designer of ordinary skill in view of the analogous prior art."

And by that standard, the board concluded, no professional comparing the two building panel designs would consider them the same.

ATAS International Inc.

Founded in 1963, ATAS International is a family-owned manufacturer of metal wall and roofing systems.

Although both panels have raised and recessed areas, ATAS's is a regular design, the board noted; CENTRIA's design, on the other hand, is deliberately asymmetrical and irregular.

Company Response

ATAS, based in Allentown, PA, did not respond to a request for comment on the litigation and settlement.

Pittsburgh-based CENTRIA issued this statement from Rick Mowrey, Director of Business Development: “CENTRIA stands at the forefront of the building products industry, as both a leading manufacturer and product innovator.

"We will continue to pursue those who manufacture, use, sell, offer for sale, or import products that infringe any of CENTRIA's many U.S. design patents.”


Tagged categories: Building enclosure system; Cladding; Color + Design; Commercial Construction; Design; Laws and litigation; Metal panels

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