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David Axt, AIA, CCS, CSI
Senior Member
Username: david_axt

Post Number: 357
Registered: 03-2002
Posted on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 05:16 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

An architect in the office brought this to my attention. He received a new copy of the Fire Trak Inc. product binder. Inside there is a threatening letter from the CEO.

“Notice of Patent Infringing Design

Attention Contractors: The following detail is a patent infringement to patents 5,471,805 & 5,75,066.

Using two ceiling runners (or any material) to create an offset at the head of a partition to allow an overlapping piece of wallboard to be attached is a patent infringing design.

Fire Trak Corp. has enforced its patents against infringers and will continue to do so. In this regard though, Fire Trak Corp. does not whish for a no one to innocently infringe. It is certainly more fair and less costly when you and others are aware of Fire Trak intellectual property and can avoid infringing it.

We are doing investigation on current and past project in your area. If you are aware of the use of this design, please contact us to let us know that you were unaware that the design was an infringement and you will discontinue its use. Willful infringement of patents can carry the possibility of triple damages and pan of our attorney fee.

Please contact Brian Becker, CEO, Fire Tran Corp. at 1-800-394-9875 regarding this matter.”

[Detail Drawing]

What do you think of this letter?

Besides being written poorly, this letter contains some misspellings. Also, I believe it is “treble” damages not “triple”.

Fire Trak state that overlapping nested top runner design is their intellectual property. The detail looks like a common detail that I see everywhere. How can you patent a common construction practice?

Since I could not find this letter on Fire Trak’s website. I can send you a scan of the original letter if you e-mail me.

Richard L Matteo
Senior Member
Username: rlmat

Post Number: 63
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 06:36 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

David, I agree. This sounds a little fishy to me too. I believe the only infringement would be if someone copied Fire Trak's design. Using standard studs and gypsum board to create a slip connection I do not believe to be an infringement as it in no way resembles Fire Trak's design.
This sounds like an attempt by Fire Track to "scare" designers into specifying their product. My suggestion would be to run this past your firm's legal counsel just to be sure.
Ronald L. Geren, RA, CSI, CCS, CCCA
Senior Member
Username: specman

Post Number: 59
Registered: 03-2003
Posted on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 06:58 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

I agree with Richard. However, one thing to keep in mind is that Fire Trak's system is tested and approved by UL. If the the alleged "infringement" design is used in a rated assembly, then there might be code-related issues to deal with, but I seriously doubt there's any legal issues.
Shelby N. Gordonswyth
Senior Member
Username: shelbyng

Post Number: 12
Registered: 08-2004
Posted on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 08:07 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

If they had a strong case, I would think the "warning" would be from their patent attorney, not the CEO.

I'm not an attorney, but it would seem to this layman that if it could be shown that nested track were used for this purpose in the past, it could well invalidate Fire Trak's patent because the existence of "prior art" would mean it is not an "original" invention. And if Fire Trak is indeed "equivalent" to prior nested track, wouldn't that put it in public domain as well?

Another thing that can invaliate a patent is the finding that it is "obvious." Using nested studs certainly seems obvious. Didn't there used to be published details showing overlapped strips of gyp board covering the slip joint?

I'd like to see what a good patent attorney could do with these apparent vulnerabiities. The problem is, who pays the retainer?

This isn't the only patent controversy regarding such devices - if I recall correctly, several months ago, on the internet, I inadvertently ran across court records of a patent fight between erstwhile "Slip Trak" founding partners.

The Steel Network has another proprietary solution. As far as I know, they aren't as litigious.

There - that's three manufacturers... ;-)
Posted on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 08:42 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

If true, it's a real good way for Fire Trak to make sure it never gets specified. I dislike threats from material manufacturers, especially ones as specious as this.
Richard L Matteo
Senior Member
Username: rlmat

Post Number: 64
Registered: 10-2003
Posted on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 11:14 am:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

Absolutely!! Any manufacturer that trys to get me to specify their products using "scare" tactics or threats is history!
I had a similar one while working in Phoenix a couple of years ago with the manufacturer of some safety railing system for roof hatches trying to say his system was the only way to comply with OSHA and that if we didn't specify his system we would be in violation of OSHA Regulations.
Vivian Volz
Senior Member
Username: vivianvolz

Post Number: 6
Registered: 06-2004
Posted on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 02:20 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

This is an odd development. I've had very good experience working with Brian Becker (he answered the company phone in his home office on a Saturday morning!) and the threatening letter seems out of character. There must be a problem with drywallers brake-forming channels to match FireTrak's, to avoid buying his channels.

The thing to notice in the letter is this: "Using two ceiling runners (or any material) to create an offset at the head of a partition TO ALLOW AN OVERLAPPING PIECE OF WALLBOARD TO BE ATTACHED..." (Emphasis mine, of course.) Simply nesting two studs is not an infringement; it's when you form or furr the outer stud so that you can attach gypsum board to overlap at the top that you infringe his patent (relying only on what he says in the letter and my memory of FireTrak details). Before you accuse FireTrak of claiming a detail you use every day, take a look at their track. It's not just a U; it's a U with the legs offset inward by 5/8" or 1 1/4". You'd have to go to some trouble to copy it, and you'd probably have to have seen it. It's a specialized and relatively expensive system that I don't specify for every job, but only the ones with excessive slab-to-slab movement and rated partitions that must absorb it.
FireTrak has always been clear with its testing information, straight with me about the limitations of the system, including the cost, and friendly. I cannot say the same for SlipTrack. I urge you not to judge FireTrak harshly by this letter, but to consider the position it may be facing.
John Smith (Unregistered Guest)
Unregistered guest
Posted on Saturday, December 18, 2004 - 10:32 pm:   Edit PostDelete PostPrint Post

One good way to get Fire Trak out of my spec's is to price it so high that I always get a value-engineering option presented by the contractor that shows something else. When I learned I can't get that product...just like fire-rated glass...I made it easier on myself and stopped specifying it.

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