Boy, it has been years since I thought about the lawsuit brought by Triple Tee Golf (TTG), and founder Jack Gillig, against Nike and Tom Stites. Therefore, I was surprised to learn of a last week’s decision from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) that has given life back to parts of the lawsuit.
First, a little background from this prior post . In late 2000, Jack Gillig, founder of Triple Tee Golf (TTG), was searching for a company that would fabricate a prototype golf club that he had designed. That’s when Gillig contacted club designer Tom Stites and his company Impact Golf Technologies (IGT). Gillig shared his ideas and designs with Stites, and plans were made to fabricate the prototypes at IGT. However, shortly after their initial meeting, Stites was hired by Nike Golf as its Director of Product Creation. Subsequently, Stites informed Gillig that IGT would no longer be able to make the prototypes. A few years later, while attending a trade show, Gillig noticed that Nike’s CPR Woods looked similar to one of the club designs he shared with Stites. Gillig suspected that Stites had provided Nike with his designs to develop the CPR Woods and other Nike clubs.
As mentioned above, TTG filed a lawsuit against Nike and Stites primarily based on misappropriation of trade secrets. The district court (N.D. Texas) granted Nike’s motion for summary judgment as to all of Triple Tee Golf’s (TTG) pending claims because TTG could not show that Nike had “used” its trade secrets in developing the Nike CPR Woods and SlingShot Irons. (FLUSH #1) The main trade secret involved was directed to a system for weighting golf clubs that is adjustable by the golfer. Since the Nike clubs suspected by TTG of incorporating its trade secrets did not feature weights adjustable by the golfer, the district court concluded that Nike had not “used” TTG’s trade secrets. After granting summary judgment for Nike, TTG became aware of two patent applications that Nike did not disclose during discovery that covered clubs with weighting systems adjustable by the golfer, and thereafter filed a motion for relief from final judgment. The district court denied TTG’s motion noting that the applications had “nothing to do with the issues presented to the court for decision in this case.” (FLUSH #2)
The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. (APPEAL #1) In reversing the grant of summary judgment, the Court relied on expert testimony that opined that Nike couldn’t have produced the accused club (adjustable or not) without using certain elements of TTG’s design as specified in its trade secrets. The Court found this evidence sufficient to create an issue of material fact as to whether Nike misappropriated some of the fundamental design elements of TTG’s trade secrets.
Then, in August 2007 it seemed the case was sunk when the district court judge dismissed all the claims, see this post . (FLUSH #3) At that point I thought that that we had heard the last of this lawsuit. Nope, it reappeared last week when the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) remanded some of the claims back to the district court for further consideration (APPEAL #2). Click David Dawsey – Monitoring Golf Litigation