In a lawsuit filed by fabric technology specialist Cocona against The North Face (TNF) and Columbia Sportswear, the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on March 4 affirmed the validity of key claims of its patent, marking a stage victory for the Boulder, Colorado-based company. The subject of the current lawsuit is Cocona’s patented 37.5 Technology. The company sued the two U.S. outdoor brands in 2017 over the sale of clothing enhanced with active particles.

Cocona had previously collaborated with TNF to develop such performance fabrics with active particles. The fabric technology company registered and owned the FlashDry name and transferred ownership to TNF when the brand was a customer. When TNF and Columbia ended their business relationship with Cocona and stopped purchasing materials from Cocona’s authorized suppliers, but continued to offer products that incorporated Cocona’s patented technology sourced from overseas, Cocona sued both brands. After litigating Cocona’s claims for nearly a year, TNF filed a petition with the Patent Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (PTAB) challenging the validity of the patent’s claims. TNF appealed the PTAB’s adverse decision, which was the result of a full trial that ultimately ended in a March 4 Court of Appeals decision upholding the validity of those claims.

Other customers legally licensing specific functional printing technology from Cocona include Adidas, Carhartt and Salomon. Cocona CEO Jeff Bowman sees the lawsuit as a cautionary tale for large companies that routinely infringe on the patent rights of smaller companies.