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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.

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  1. So is the M855A1 being issued to troops?
    I have heard the round had problems with accelerated wear on weapons, being loaded hotter than the old M855 to maintain the same ballistics.

    • Yes it is Peter. I’ve also heard unsubstantiated reports of a small number of the bullets coming apart.

  2. “The government has until February 19th to appeal the decision, which I’m guessing would be a prudent move given the dollars involved.”

    How so? It’s our money they’re spending, not theirs, why would they care?

    Good for Liberty. There is a pretty firm conviction in some areas that filing for a patent simply opens the doors for every crooked hack to copy your invention. I know a guy who has invented several things he believes would be salable, applied for a patent on the least valuable in his opinion. The product was on the market before he got a reply from the patent office. Still, it seems we should be able to expect that the government itself would not cheat us in that regard. What were we thinking?

    • At current ammo purchase numbers os 3 billion rounds a year for 5.56 that works out to $42,000,000 per year.

      After thatit starts to get complicated because the Army procures between 10 and 15% of its rifle ammo (5.56) from Isreali Arms as part of the military assistance programs to help keep israli ammo makers running at a cost effective rate and the IDF a ready supply of extra ammo if needed. IA will have to switch over and produce this round also forcing them to pay the patent fees. Who pays will really have to pay them – us of course.

      • Thanks, DBM. I was figuring that number would end up being much bigger than the lump-sum payment and was about to go look up usage figures when I saw your post. Nicely done.

      • DBM, I’m curious where you are getting the 3 billion number. At the peak, Lake City’s production of 5.56mm was 1.2 billion, and a majority of that was M855. It’s come down quite a bit since then.

        The whole Israeli thing was because the DoD was mandated to have a second-source supplier on all their contracts. Well, the joke is on them, because for a couple of years(it may still be ongoing) Israeli Arms was getting every single one of their bullets from Lake City!!!

    • In the 1990s Comrade Bill Clinton gave a copy of the entire US patents database, with regular updates to China.

      And China’s regard to intellectual property is well known.

  3. This round never should have been purchased in the first place. The “green” bullet was mandated based on the false primise that the lead in the projectile was poisonous to the environment and causing lead poisoning to people (not the intended terrist taget BTW). The Gov’t will appeal this and after many years lose and pay up after running up a few hundred million in legal fees. The gov’t needs to pay the fine and negotiate a one time lump payment and agree to pay a royalty for ammo produced at Lake City that ends up in the consumer market in the future.

    • Lake city Ammo and Liberty Ammo are different companies.. Lake city is Government owned, and Out of Missouri.
      Liberty is Privately held, out of Florida. Liberty has only been around since 2005. While Lake city dates back to around 1943.

      • Guess you arent aware that lake city makes all of the US made small arms ammo (except for pistol) for the military.

    • Don’t forget, Climate Change is one of the gravest threats to national security this nation faces. Da Prezident and Da Def Sec said so. Al Gore too! It must be true. So we gotta go green.

      • You shouldn’t care about what Obama or Gore – or, for that matter, O’Reilly or Romney – say about AGW. They are not qualified to have an informed opinion. The scientists in relevant fields (physics, chemistry, geology and climate science) are. And they say that it’s real. You can ignore it at your peril, just as you can ignore gravity at your peril.

        Of course, this all has nothing to do with lead and any hypothetical environmental effect thereof.

        • The scientist are not in agreement for one and two, we have had climate change since the beginning of time and we always will have climate change, the point is, we, people, are not able to change the weather on a global scale – whether for the good or the bad. So, Gore and his followers need to face the fact that climate change is in the hands of God and not man…of course that would mean that Gore would lose his income that he gets from selling (more like blackmailing) carbon credits. Of course he can always fall back on all the royalties that he gets for having invented the Internet. Here’s a tip for you, if Gore says it, it’s probably a self serving lie and I for one would rather go ahead and burn than kiss Gore’s arse.

    • OCP and MultiCam are similar, but they are NOT the same thing.

      OCP was based on the “scorpion” pattern Crye Precision created under government contract. The US Army owns the rights to “scorpion” and its derivatives, including OCP.

      MultiCam is similar because it was developed by Crye Precision utilizing the R&D they had done while developing “scorpion.” After “scorpion” was rejected in favor of the ill-advised UCP, Crye rolled its R&D into what would become MultiCam. Crye Precision owns the rights to MultiCam and its derivatives.

  4. Sounds like an appeal is forthcoming. I would not be surprised to hear that the government will invalidate the patent in the name of public interest. Sort of like eminent domain. The precedent exists in re Washington Redskins rights to their name.

    • The situation with Redskins is not even remotely similar. Theirs is a trademark dispute, and the current trademark law has restrictions on “disparaging” trademarks without defining what this means, so it’s basically down to the bureaucrats issuing them (and to the courts, should the bureaucrats’ decision be challenged).

      Here we have the case of a patent, a totally different thing. A patent can only be invalidated on the grounds of being obvious. As far as eminent domain goes, I’m not sure how this even applies to intellectual property, but in any case, it also requires compensation. So the government could ostensibly force Liberty to license the design to them under a fair price, but they can’t just take it for free.

      • I’m not a football fan at all, but I hate seeing these groups push their weight around and attempt to force the Redskins to change their name, especially since no American Indian that I’ve talked to about it has any problem with the name (kinda like how only ugly lesbians who will probably never get pregnant are the ones that keep abortion alive – only people that have no dog in the fight are offended over the name). So, I propose that the Redskins go ahead and change their name to be something as offensive to the idiots on the left as they can get (for instance they could call themself the lying liberals or the dumbass democrats) and that would be their official name; however, all football fans, and anyone who hates seeing the left push their weight around would go ahead and continue to refer to them as The Redskins. Kinda the same thing with same sex marriage, okay, legally you can go ahead and get, “Married”, but you better not say that around me because I’m going to call you a liar and insult you to your face (not that I have any beef with gay people, I just have a beef with those who support changing the meaning of a word, “Marriage” in order to appease a small group of people while at the same time slapping a large group of people in the face when they could have solved the problem by creating another term, like civil unions, but with all the same benifits that married people enjoy). Okay, that’s my rant now I’ll hop down from my soap box.

  5. Happy for PJ Marx, he’s a good guy, and Picatinny Arsenal basically stole his design.

    BTW the lead-free part of the spec was more because the guys the military had running the training and ranges were being exposed to ridiculous levels of lead for being around it all day. The toxicity in-field is really a non-issue.

    • How much of that lead exposure was due to bullets sent downrange and how much was due to the primers?

    • The lead exposure comes from the primers and not the lead in the bullet. Its also only a problem in enclosed ranges and the army has damned few of those. Its all envirowacko BS to mainstream none lead bullets.

    • Stole his design? sheesh. Also, I don’t think Picatinny Arsenal had much to do with it, I was thinking that the design originated with ATK engineers, but I could be wrong.

      The M855 has a steel tip, it’s just on the inside. That’s been around since the 80’s. Also, I’m not certain of the exact composition, but the core used at Lake City isn’t purely copper.

      I really don’t know how they got a judge to agree that their idea was patent-able in the first place.

    • What DBM said. The problem only occurs in enclosed spaces and there aren’t too many military ranges that are indoors.

  6. If lead poisons the environment I guess we should stop mining asteroids to get it.

    In all seriousness, if it came from the ground sending it back shouldn’t be an issue. Lead is only (significantly) dangerous in a dust form and it’s affects happen gradually through constant exposure as a child. A few lead pills in the dirt are nothing compared to the leaded gasoline problems.

  7. This is outrageous! Didn’t our Feckless Leader tell us that “the only thing we all belong to is the government”? So any patents developed by private persons belong to the government! “You didn’t build that!” /sarc off/

  8. If the Army stole one of my inventions and mass produced it for themselves, I’d sue the shit out of them. If they want to BUY my product and pay me for my work, that’s one thing. But to STEAL someone’s design and have it produced cheaper somewhere else to save a buck is fucked up. This isn’t fucking China. American inventors have enough problems dealing with Chinese knock-offs and shouldn’t have to worry about their own government stealing from them. How would you feel if you invested your own money designing and engineering a product that the Army could buy from you, but instead they just stole your design and had it manufactured somewhere else cheaper and completely cut you out of the profits? Would you still feel “honored”. Try taking honor to the store and buying food with it. Or better yet, the next time a credit card company calls and tells you that your payment is late, ask them if you can pay for it with your honor. I hope they get every dollar the Army screwed this company out of, plus damages.

    • I remember reading an article in about 1979 about a guy who invented a hand held, belt fed .22LR submachine gun that would fire 2000 rds a minute. He wanted to sell it to the army and the army wanted him to hand it over to them for examination and testing. The guy wisely said not a chance because he know the military was going to steal his design.

    • I don’t know if the Army stole the idea or not. It seems to me that there is a possibility that LTC Dean, Paul Riggs or John Amick might have unfairly discussed Marxs’ bullet and had the M855A1 developed as a result but it’s also possible that the M855A1 bullet was simply the brain storm of a lot of smart people, in any reguard, I do not believe that the Army stole the idea of someone else, because in the Army acquisition community they are very careful not to do that or even to create the idea that they may have done that. So, Riggs (for instance) may have went to Lake City engineers after talking to Marx and put them on the right track, which is WRONG, but I believe that bullet was designed by Lake City’s engineers. I guess that what I’m saying is that maybe people who work for the Army may have cheated and stole Marxs’ idea, but the Army itself does not condone that type of behavior and there have probably been numerous investigations to determine exactly how that bullet was invented and if the Army found out that one of their people stole someone elses idea, then I’m sure the Army would prosecute or otherwise punish that person.

  9. I find this very interesting. The way patent law currently is, the military
    can pretty much take any info they want and give to any manufacturer
    in order to get the intended product. Garage inventors know that
    unless they have sold the patent rights already or have a senator(s)
    in there pocket, getting a patent then approaching the DoD is
    downright stupid. That’s why new/updated gear is pretty much
    stagnant. Nobody in their right mind blatantly gets a patent without
    serious political or legal juju backing them up. It’s also not uncommon
    for the DoD to either sit on a patent until it runs out then patent it
    themselves or use it anyway and drive a startup or small company
    out of business.

  10. Problem is, it is the taxpayers that will bleed. It isn’t even an improvement on the current M855; just lead free.

    • Ryan, the bullet is a great improvement over the M855 since it’s steel tip does not deform when striking slanted windshields which allows them to penetrate and stay on course. They also penetrate cement blocks out to 250 yards or so (depending on barrel length) whereas the M855 will not penetrate one at all. They are also more accurate than the M855 bullet (higher ballistic coefficient too) when shot from a 1 in 9 twist barrel. And finally, it will penetrate 3/8″ hardened steel (AR500) out to a couple hundred yards which means that it will penetrate body armour and kevlar… However, the Marine’s Mk318 will do all of that so let’s save ourselves some money and use that instead.

  11. I don’t condone theft, even by our government (especially not by our government) but I think that we (the government) should cut our loses, simply pay the $15 million penalty and then stop using that bullet. They can use the Marine’s Mk318 Mod 0 round until 2027 (which is an excellent bullet and will do everything that the M855A1 is capable of) so that they will not have to pay any royalties to Liberty.

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