It has been a week and a half since the New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI, but that does not mean that football will be leaving the news anytime soon. The offseason always brings a renewed discussion of policy issues in football, and in recent years this has meant a focus on head trauma and concussions. While the potential damage to players (understandably) is the focus of the discussion, one area that fails to get the same headlines is the technology driving the equipment used by the players.
In April, Kranos Corporation, a company who does business as Schutt Sports, was sued by Riddell Inc. for infringing three of Riddell's patents. A new wrinkle to this case was added on Friday, when the Patent Trial and Appeal Board agreed to review one of these patents, saying they "conclude that [Schutt Sports] has demonstrated a reasonable likelihood that it would prevail with respect to the challenges to at least one of the challenged claims." The patent in question is for a face guard that can be removed from the helmet shell easily and without a screwdriver. The PTAB is of the opinion some of the claims are obvious when previous patents are viewed in light of specific screw systems.
Schutt proposed several arguments, but the PTAB seemed to buy into the argument that it would make sense to combine the prior helmet patent to a patent for a "spring-biased coupling and release mechanism" or "a quick-release mechanism for attaching and detaching one part to another." The PTAB rejected two other arguments: one that the claims had been disclosed in a previous patent, which was rejected because that design did not disclose a releasable coupler assembly, and one that another patent disclosed several of the claims.
Depending on the results of the PTAB's ruling, this could have a significant effect on the pending litigation. A district court may be less inclined to find that Schutt has infringed Riddell's patents if the PTAB has found those patents invalid.