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Liebherr Mining Files Lawsuit Over Copycat Truck Production

Equipment manufacturer Liebherr Mining is suing six former employees at its Newport News production plant, alleging they conspired against the company t...

|Mar 29|magazine10 min read

Equipment manufacturer Liebherr Mining is suing six former employees at its Newport News production plant, alleging they conspired against the company to steal thousands of design documents and then sell the information to copycat manufacturers in China.

The company is also suing an engineering firm in Detroit for assisting Chinese companies, and two Chinese manufacturing partnerships, in replicating a Liebherr diesel truck with a 400-ton payload.

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"This case involves industrial espionage of a serious and brazen nature," according to a 2013 complaint in the case. "It involves the wholesale theft of trade secrets from a United States manufacturing facility and the use of these trade secrets to help multiple Chinese competitors design a competing product."

The 104-page complaint alleges stolen documents such as truck designs, vendor information and factory layouts allowed the Chinese companies to construct the Liebherr-style trucks “in a fraction of the time, at a fraction of the cost, and with a fraction of the manpower as could be accomplished lawful means.”

According to the Daily Press, Liebherr accuses the former workers of stealing documents by downloading files from their computers, thumb drives and USB devices, and states that one worker walked around the Newport News factor taking pictures of its layout and tools.

"Design of mining trucks occurs over years, not weeks," says the 2013 complaint, filed by Brett A. Spain and David A. Kushner with Wilcox & Savage. For its $5 million mining trucks, the complaint adds, "Liebherr has been analyzing and upgrading its design for over 15 years."

Liebherr contends, "American manufacturing jobs will be lost" to companies that rip off technology and processes that took decades and millions of dollars to develop.

"This effort has included teams of employees in research and development, design, computer modeling, quality assurance, vendor relations, manufacturing and testing," the complaint says. "Liebherr has spent hundreds of thousands of man-hours and tens of millions of dollars designing and improving these trucks and components."

The lawsuit asks for $40 million in compensatory damages, including $350,000 in punitive damages against each defendant. Under state rules on conspiracy, the $400 million can be tripled to $120 million.

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The suit also seeks for the alleged companies be barred forever from “producing or selling any trucks or truck designs which are derived from Liebherr’s designs” or using its trade secrets again.

Although the first complaint was filed in late 2010, a jury trial is set for July.

Liebherr Mining & Construction Equipment is part of Liebherr USA, which includes the Newport News plant – a division of Swiss manufacturing group, Liebherr-International AG. The company was founded in 1949 by Hans Liebherr. 

(Source: Peter Dujardin)