A federal jury has ordered Caterpillar to pay a small British firm $73.6 million for ripping off its design for a piece of heavy-duty construction equipment.
Caterpillar, based in the central Illinois city of Peoria, stole trade secrets from its supplier, Miller U.K. Ltd., when it copied a Miller design for a coupling device that links heavy buckets to hydraulic digging machines, the jury found on Friday at the end of a two-month trial in Chicago’s federal court.
The verdict — the largest award under the Illinois Trade Secret Act, according to Miller’s attorneys — was a David and Goliath-style triumph for Miller, which employs just 105 workers in a small town in the north of England, against Caterpillar, which employs 120,000 workers worldwide and is one of Illinois’ largest employers. Miller would likely have gone bust if it had lost the case, according to Reed Oslan, an attorney from Kirkland & Ellis, who represented Miller.
The company’s owners remortgaged their homes and went from “nice homes and nice cars” to struggling to survive after Caterpillar stole their design, Oslan said.
Miller plans to pursue Caterpillar for its legal fees and interest on the $73.6 million verdict, which could take the total Caterpillar will have to pay to “north of $100 million,” he said, adding that he expects Caterpillar to appeal.
Caterpillar spokeswoman Rachel Potts said the firm was disappointed with the verdict and is considering its next step.