A five-year legal battle over integrated servomotor technology is over. A hotly contested patent case involving Animatics Corp. and Quicksilver Controls Inc. has been resolved, completely settling out all parties and ending the related litigation.

Originally, Animatics sued Quicksilver for infringing its patent for a servomotor with an integrated microprocessor controller. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found as a matter of law that the accused Quicksilver products infringed two claims and did not infringe three other claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the district court's finding of no infringement of the three claims and directed the district court to enter a judgment of infringement on those claims. The Federal Circuit's opinion is a major victory for Animatics because the three claims are broader than the claims previously found to have been infringed.

The settlement arose shortly after Animatics received a favorable decision in the patent infringement case before the Federal Circuit. With only a damages trial left, both parties were motivated to settle the case. Animatics says it viewed the damages trial as yet another unnecessary expense and saw a more predictable and positive solution in working with Quicksilver now that issues of infringement and patent validity have been resolved. Both parties say they wish to spare distributors and customers of any harm wherever possible.

The settlement releases all parties including distributors. Quicksilver will pay Animatics a royalty for all the integrated servos made in the past along with an additional measure of attorney's fees. Animatics agreed to forsake all other damages in exchange for Quicksilver's cooperation in paying at least some of the overall losses related to the infringementand litigation.

Animatics has not given Quicksilver a license to sell integrated servos in the future. Robert Bigler, Animatics CEO, comments, “It would not be fair to our existing alliance partners, when they came to us without any litigation right from the get-go, to give a license to a party that chose the path of most resistance.”

Quicksilver says it acted to protect its distributors. Don Labriola, Quicksilver President, comments, “We chose settlement as the most reliable way to protect both users and distributors from legal issues, and to end the drain of litigation so Quicksilver can continue to provide ... products to our customers. Quicksilver has already introduced several non-integrated products showcasing our unique motion control capabilities. Under this agreement, we will again be able to offer complete motion solutions including motors and encoders to help speed our customers' products to market.”

Privately, other servomotor and controls makers say the settlement takes a lot of uncertainty out of the integrated servo market, which has been touted by independent studies as the fastest growing segment of motion control. Other controls suppliers that spoke with MACHINE DESIGN say that to avoid the possibility of similar litigation, they have approached Animatics and discussed their plans prior to fielding any products in this field. They have then either paid Animatics a royalty or satisfied the company that planned products would not infringe on Animatics' intellectual property.

Comments Bigler, “This victory means Animatics and its alliance partners can continue to invest in integrated servo development with the security of knowing that it will not become a total commodity, before we have finished advancing the technology to its limit. Expect to see some exciting new products in the very near future.”