3M Earplug Lawsuit Began As A Small Patent Fight With Rival

Category: 3M Earplugs

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The mountain of legal cases facing 3M Co. over its military-grade earplugs — it’s facing tens of thousands of lawsuits from veterans and potentially more than $1 billion in liability — may have its roots in a much smaller intellectual-property fight with another earplug maker.

That’s the takeaway from a report in The Wall Street Journal, which delves into the legal history behind 3M’s Combat Arms earplugs. The earplugs have drawn legal complaints from veterans who say they damaged their hearing.

But the company has lost more than half the 16 lawsuits decided so far, with damages ranging from $1.7 million to more than $75 million. 3M is appealing some of the cases, but there are tens of thousands more ahead; a judge has ordered settlement talks.

3M got into the earplug business when it bought Aearo Technologies Inc. for $1.2 billion in 2008. A few years later, the Journal notes, a California business called Moldex-Metric Inc. began selling its own brand of military earplug, which like 3M’s version can be used in different ways depending on how much sound the wearer wants to block.

In 2012, 3M sued Moldex for patent infringement, but withdrew the suit a year later. Moldex counter-sued. (Moldex officials declined to comment to the Journal about the legal fight with 3M.)

During the litigation, Moldex attorneys uncovered a 3M memo that’s become a key part of the veteran lawsuits. Plaintiff attorneys argue it showed that Aearo knew of potential problems with its earplugs, 3M says it communicated issues to the military and said they were resolved with proper fitting. 3M also says that the military still uses a newer version of the earplugs.

Moldex also sued 3M in 2016 under the False Claims act, arguing that 3M’s earplugs were defective. 3M settled with the U.S. government in 2018 for $9.1 million, but admitted no wrongdoing; Moldex got a piece of that settlement, the Journal notes.

Shortly after the 2018 settlement, the first veteran lawsuits were filed.

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See the full, original post here: https://www.bizjournals.com/twincities/news/2022/07/19/3ms-earplug-case-origin.html

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