An Illinois federal jury awarded $3 million in damages against Nestle Purina in a patent infringement suit over the popular “Tidy Cat” line of swelling and clumping cat litter. The patent, USPN 5,975,019, granted in 1999, was barely in term and in its waning days of enforceability.

Clumping cat litters generally are formed with a high percentage of sodium bentonite, the famous swelling clay that cracks home foundations across the Southwest and is a mainstay of pond and landfill sealing operations. When wet, bentonite clays absorb moisture and swell up to 18 times the size of its dry particles.

Nestle Purina unsuccessfully argued that it did not care about the particle size, which was a major component of the patent’s disclosure, and only used the compound as a surface layer over a non-swelling core. The jury, however, rejected that contention as well as a challenge to the patent’s validity based on prior art.

And just by the way, if you think small firms can’t win big bases, Plaintiff was represented by The Collins Law Firm, an eight-member firm out of Naperville, Illinois.

BUSINESS TAKE AWAY: Don’t let the scientists and patent geeks lose you in the details. As a business advisor, you have to consider ALL of the independent claims of a patent. Even if the thrust of a patent, and one or more independent claims follow that thrust, you still have to think about every claim. In this patent, the three independent claims (only two survived earlier proceedings) covered three important aspects of the invention; particle size, some specific clay ratios, and a method of making the compound where the only specific ratio required was that the non-swelling part was larger than the swelling part.