A federal jury has ordered one of Illinois’ largest employers, Caterpillar, to pay a small United Kingdom-based company more than $73 million in damages, after the jury found Caterpillar had stolen trade secrets from the small engineering and parts maker.
On Dec. 18, the jury returned a verdict in favor of engineering firm and parts designer Miller U.K. on the company’s allegations that Caterpillar breached its contract with Miller and misappropriated Miller’s proprietary information in producing a new coupler for excavators and other earthmoving equipment produced by the Peoria-based company.
Miller U.K., a family-owned engineering company based in the town of Cramlington in the northeast of England, and specializing in the design of buckets, “quick couplers” and other pieces for earthmoving and excavation equipment, filed suit in 2010 in Chicago federal court.
The complaint alleged Caterpillar stole Miller’s proprietary design for its quick coupler, known as the “Bug,” which, according to the complaint, negates the need for a manual safety pin. The complaint said Miller invented the device in 1998, and began talking with Caterpillar at that time about supplying Caterpillar with the Bug couplers.
That relationship continued until 2009, when Miller learned from Caterpillar, which had grown to become Miller’s largest customer, that Caterpillar had developed its own coupler, and would no longer require the services of Miller.
Miller alleged Caterpillar used the information Miller had supplied it to design its own coupler, which the complaint said is “now marketed as the Caterpillar Center-Lock Pin-Grabber Quick Coupler.”
Miller demanded $100 million for the alleged breaches.
Miller was represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago.
After years of proceedings, the case went to trial this fall, and on Dec. 18, a jury came down in favor of Miller U.K., awarding the firm $24.9 million in compensatory damages and an additional $49.7 million in exemplary damages.
The jury also awarded Caterpillar $1 million on a counterclaim for defamation against Miller.
Court records indicated Miller received outside support to fund its lawsuit against Caterpillar from third-party litigation funding ventures, identified as Juris Capital LLC, of Chicago, and Arena Consulting, of Highland Park. Juris and Arena agreed to fund the litigation in exchange for a portion of the final judgment.
Caterpillar was represented in the action by attorneys with the firms of Baker & Hostetler, with offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and Howrey LLP, of Washington, D.C.
This fall, Caterpillar said it employed more than 22,000 workers at two dozen facilities in Illinois.
In 2014, the company reported sales and revenue of more than $55 billion worldwide.