Titleist’s Golf Ball IP Litigation: Is There a Dimple Threatening the Case?

An action filed in Spring 2015 by Acushnet, manufacturer of Titleist golf balls, sued ten direct-sale golf companies for patent infringement.  The plaintiff alleged that the defendants were selling golf balls using Titleist’s “triangular dipyramid dimple pattern.”  The pattern has 318 dimples made up of three different dimple sizes and arranged in a particular triangular pattern.

The link between the defendants is that each company purchased their golf balls from the same Taiwanese company before reselling them to customers through direct internet sales.  Around half of the companies surrendered to the allegations not long after the suit was filed.  Several of these companies were forced to wind up their business indefinitely, completely leaving the golf equipment industry.  As for the defendants that have decided to challenge plaintiff’s claims and remain in the lawsuit, the companies have sought an early escape, filing a motion to dismiss on personal jurisdiction grounds.

As mentioned above, the defendants are direct-sale companies.  A direct sale is a transaction between a business and a client that occurs away from a fixed location—for example, a sale of goods over the internet.  In terms of a personal jurisdiction consideration, it is often difficult to obtain such power over a direct-sales company in a jurisdiction other than the one in which the goods are being sold from.  This is the situation in the present Acushnet case.

The direct-sale golf companies have argued in their motion to dismiss that plaintiff Acushnet cannot prove the minimum contacts necessary to have obtained personal jurisdiction over defendants in the state of Massachusetts.  In other words, the defendants are contending they did not direct their business activity toward Massachusetts in such a manner that they could reasonably foresee being sued in the state for patent infringement.  The motion was filed Thursday September 3, 2015, and judgment is pending.

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