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Judge awards $20 million to Pa. inventor's estate

March 24, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - A federal judge in Chicago on Thursday agreed that Square D Co. infringed on a late Waynesboro inventor's patent, rejecting the company's appeal of a previous jury verdict and adding interest to award the plaintiff's family $20 million.

Attorney Christopher Lee of Chicago said the judge issued a 20-page opinion in favor of Frank Calabrese, who died of cancer in February, just two weeks after a jury awarded him $13.2 million.

Calabrese's widow, Kathy Calabrese, said Thursday, "I'm pleased, the children are pleased, and I know Frank would be pleased at the judges' ruling. I feel vindicated. That's how Frank felt, too. He never doubted that he would win."

Square D is a division of Groupe Schneider of France, a conglomerate with annual sales of more than $7 billion.

Lawyers representing Calabrese alleged the Chicago-based electronics equipment manufacturer deliberately tried to delay the trial knowing that Calabrese was in critical condition. "They did everything in their power to delay this case," Lee said.

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The case involved Calabrese's invention of a relay system for transferring and acquiring data in complex manufacturing processes.

Calabrese, an electrical engineer, was issued a patent for the device in 1982, but its value wasn't realized until the early 1990s.

He filed the suit in 1995, about the same time he was diagnosed with cancer. He died on Feb. 14 at age 58.

In the initial trial, the jury said Square D's actions were "willful and deliberate," Calabrese's lawyers said.

Martin Hanna, spokesman for Square D in Chicago, denied that his company delayed the trial because of Calabrese's health. "That is simply not true," Hanna said. "And we continue to believe very strongly that we did not infringe on Mr. Calabrese's patent. We will appeal."

Lee said an appeal in the case could postpone any money coming to Calabrese's family for at least two more years.

He said he doubts that Square D officials will consider settling the case.

"They thought that with their resources they could grind him down, but Frank stood up to them," Lee said.

Kathy Calabrese said she knows it will be a while before she receives any money from the suit or from any settlement to which Square D might agree.

"It's not a done deal," she said. "Maybe they will be fair to us now before any appeal, but given their track record, I'm not optimistic."

The $20 million represents more than 75 percent of Square D's total sales through December 1999 of the data relay patented by Calabrese, Lee said.

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