TAMPA, Fla. -- A convenient fridge feature is now at the center of a lawsuit pitting the University of South Florida against appliance giant Whirlpool.
USF claims Whirlpool used one of the university's patented inventions to offer a dispenser feature that measures out specific amounts of liquid.
You may have seen it built into refrigerator doors under the name “Measured Fill”.
But USF says that little liquid convenience is their invention, which was patented in 2007 under a lengthier name – “Volumetric Control Apparatus for Fluid Dispensing”.
So now, USF has filed a lawsuit against the appliance behemoth demanding they pay up.
USF declined to comment, but Rick Valderrama, managing partner at patent consulting firm Inventors Launchpad in Tampa, says USF knows what it’s doing when it comes to obtaining patents.
“It's very painstaking,” Valderrama said, referring to the application process, which he says can take years.
He also says there's little point in going through the ordeal of getting a patent if you're not prepared to defend it -- whether you're an individual, a company, or in this case, a university.
“They definitely have the knowledge and experience to create a rock-solid patent. And I'm sure they're ready to protect it,” said Valderrama.
According to USF, it ranks ninth in the nation among public universities when it comes to patents granted and has ranked in the top 10 for the past six years.
The university says it holds patents on everything from nano-technology to solar energy, medical devices to electronics.
Whirlpool, which also offers the Measured Fill feature on several of its KitchenAid, Amana, Jenn-air and Maytag models, sent a statement,:
“At Whirlpool Corporation, we operate with strong business integrity. We stand behind our innovations and products, which reflect our ideas and expertise. We disagree with the allegations made by USF in their lawsuit and are prepared to dispute them at trial.”
Local patent attorney Sidney Kilgore says Whirlpool might try to attack the validity of USF's patent by saying there was nothing novel about the idea, or that it was so obvious a patent should not have been granted in the first place.
As part of its lawsuit, USF Is also demanding Whirlpool stop using the feature in its refrigerators.