Right around 2007, the U.S. Army started putting a new bullet into the field. Improving on the standard SS109/M855 ball ammunition, the new loading used a lead-free projectile with a steel insert and saw improved performance as well as better penetration over the old faithful. There was much rejoicing. After five years of active use in the field, it looks like the Army’s new round might have infringed on a previous patent by one-time TTAG ammo sponsor Liberty Ammunition. A Federal court judge agreed and has awarded the company north of $15 million for the government’s error. Far, far north . . .
Liberty Ammunition filed suit against the Department of Defense in 2011, claiming that the Department of the Army used Liberty’s trade secrets to produce “enhanced performance rounds” for military rifles that were nearly identical to a bullet Liberty patented. The Army has been using lead-free bullets for several years produced by other manufacturers working under military contract.
U.S. Federal Court of Claims Judge Charles F. Lettow filed a decision Dec. 19 in which he found the federal government had infringed on Liberty’s patent for its copper-core, steel-tipped ammunition. Lettow ordered the government to pay two levels of damages, the first being a $15.6 million lump payment. The government was also ordered to pay a 1.4-cent royalty on every bullet it purchases and receives for use. It will make those payments until Liberty’s patent expires in 2027.
The government has until February 19th to appeal the decision, which I’m guessing would be a prudent move given the dollars involved. With the insane number of rounds produced every year for the military, that royalty payment will tend to add up quickly.