By: Warren Conway

TSA Bins

In August 2021, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has infringed a on a on a Florida company’s patent. This judgment in turn could cost taxpayers north of $130 Million.[1]

Everyone who has flown commercially post-September 11 is familiar with the hassles of getting through security. The most common trial requires passengers to remove their shoes, empty their pockets, remove their laptop from their bags and other accessories, and place them into bins. Subsequently, the bins are loaded on to a conveyor belt and passed through a bevy of security devices.

However, the TSA has struggled to find efficient ways to return these bins to their initial starting point. Evidence suggests that the TSA had gone over a decade with failed efforts at returning the bins in an efficient manner. This continued until they employed a system of using stackable trays, moved across a conveyor belt before being transported back to the beginning of the line. The TSA has employed this system at over 400 airports across the United States. A Federal Court found the TSA’s system to infringe on SecurityPoint Media’s 2005 Patent (Patent No. 6,888,460). The patent is directed to a “system and device for use in a security area, and more particularly, a rack system and holding device for placing various objects that are processed through a security area.”

SecurityPoint Media’s Not-So-Obvious Patent

SecurityPoint Media and its founder Joseph T. Ambrefe Jr. filed suits alleging infringement in the United States Court of Federal Claims in 2007. After litigation was initiated, lawyers for the TSA attempted to invalidate SecurityPoint Media’s patent in federal court on the grounds of obviousness. The Judge acknowledged that SecurityPoint Media’s patent was” simple and employ’s common elements” but ultimately rejected the TSA’s argument that the patent was obvious.

The case then proceeded to trial where Ambrefe testified that he and the TSA initially agreed that the TSA could test the system in 2005. Subsequently, Ambrefe offered to license the use of his patented method to the TSA in exchange for the exclusive right to advertise on the trays. By the TSA’s own admission the tests were highly successful, but they rejected Ambrefe’s offer. The TSA then employed SecurityPoint Media’s method with only slight variations in 2008.

Tray Damages

During trial, attorneys for SecurityPoint Media estimated the damages to be roughly 8 cents per passenger that used SecurityPoint Media’s system. That number would bring the alleged damages to roughly $618 million dollars. This notion was promptly rebutted by the TSA who argued that SecurityPoint Media was owed one lump sum payment of approximately $12.6 million dollars. Ultimately, the judge rejected both arguments, and decided that damages were 2 cents per passenger for a total award of $100 million dollars in favor of SecurityPoint Media.

Additionally, the court held that SecurityPoint Media was entitled to delay damages and additional damages for the TSA’s continued infringement of the patent. The parties stipulated that these additional damages constituted at least 30 million dollars. Total damages are estimated to be in excess of 130 million dollars, making this one of the largest damage awards ever levied against the United States.

About the Author:                                                                                                                                   

Associate, Warren Conway, has served as counsel on topics such as intellectual property acquisition, patent and trade secret litigation, and technology transfers.

[1]  SecurityPoint Holding Inc. v. U.S., case number 1:11-cv-00268