Salisbury Inventor Appeals In General Motors Case

December 1, 2003
Litchfield County Times, November 28, 2003, by E.L. Lefferts
John Evans, a Lakeville resident with a business in Sharon, has filed an appeal of a decision throwing out his $600 million theft of trade secrets case, in which he accused auto giant General Motors of stealing technology he invented.
The Waterbury appellate court has accepted the case on its docket.
The appeal was filed Oct. 7 by attorney Susan Dixon of Goring & Dixon in Winsted, who is one of a platoon of lawyers representing Mr. Evans. A similar phalanx of attorneys has taken up GM's cause.
Better Design?
At the heart of the case is Mr. Evans' claim that GM employees stole his design for a valve that made it possible for GM's popular Gen II engine aqueous-reverse-flow cooling system to function.
His design, the inventor alleges, offered better fuel economy, greater horsepower, lower emissions and, because of its size, a sleeker hood design. GM's aqueous reverse-flow engine wasn't functioning at anywhere near such a level, and Mr. Evans claims that desperate company engineers broke into his prototype in 1989 and made off with the technology.
August 29 Decision
In his Aug. 29 decision, Waterbury Superior Court Judge Robert F. McWeeny cited two documents Mr. Evans signed on behalf of his company, Evans Cooling System, Inc. of Sharon (formerly Mecca Development, Inc.) that gave GM the right to any prior or future submissions from the plaintiff. The documents forfeited any rights Mr. Evans might have to the profits from the use of his invention, the judge ruled.
Ms. Dixon agues in the appeal that Judge McWeeny erred because he failed to recognize that Mr. Evans considered the trade secret his own property, not something belonging to Evans Cooling Systems, Inc. or to Mecca.
She further questioned the judge's decision in concluding that "Evans had 'submitted' his trade secrets to Defendant GM when those secrets were stolen by Defendant's agents," according to the appeal.
Judge McWeeny decided to limit the trial to Mr. Evans' claim against GM on its use of the reverse-flow technology in its Gen II engine. Mr. Evans had hoped to also bring the Gen III engine into the courtroom since it makes use of the same technology.
"Did the court further err as a matter of law in denying [Mr. Evans] the opportunity to prove ... that so-called Gen III engines substantially embodied the stolen trade secrets, thus in effect preventing [Mr. Evans] from obtaining damages for GM's sale of vehicles containing the Gen III engine?" Ms. Dixon asked in her statement of the issues for the appeal.
GM attorney Jeffrey Babbin of Wiggin & Dana in New Haven argued in a counterstatement of the issues filed Oct. 27 that the Evans camp agreed before the trial that there would be no jury, and that there's no statutory or constitutional right to a jury trial in a trade secret claim.
Mr. Babbin noted that upon signing one of the two documents in the past, Mr. Evans received $150,000 in compensation for the unconditional release of claims against GM.
While Ms. Dixon also brought up the issue of GM documents found to have been forged-in an attempt to prove GM invented the technology – Mr.Babbin countered that even if someone within the GM ranks forged documents, the misconduct would have little impact on the reasons the court sided in GM's favor.
The attorney further claimed that the Gen III engine doesn't use a reverse-flow cooling system, and that even if it did, the venting device Mr. Evans claimed to have invented is already commonly used in the automotive industry.
Mr. Evans' attorneys also failed to sustain the burden of proof to the court that the secret had been misappropriated by anyone at GM, Mr. Babbin further claimed.
And finally, he noted that GM had designed its Gen II engine in 1988, and that nothing on it changed even after Mr. Evans visited the plant in 1989 with his invention.
On March 16, 1989 Mr. Evans claims he was invited to the company's Detroit location to demonstrate a non-aqueous cooling system. As an aside, GM engineers asked him to bring his un-patented, aqueous reverse-flow cooling device with its unique venting system as well. The inventor verbally agreed, but only if the aqueous system could be tested under "black box" conditions, meaning that the car, a black Corvette, would be locked and the hood down so the technology couldn't be seen.
Unable to complete the tests, GM engineers asked Mr. Evans to leave the black Corvette loaded with the aqueous venting system at the plant overnight. By morning, it was evident the vehicle had been tampered with, according to Mr. Evans' claims.
"First look" tests of the Gen II in February and March of 1989, Mr. Evans alleges, resulted in the engine overheating in one minute in a simulated drive at 50 miles per hour up a 7.2 percent grade in second gear.
By contrast, the black Corvette with Mr. Evans' technology ran 17 and 20 minutes under the same conditions.
Two years after the tests, Mr. Evans was reading a trade magazine that touted GM's new Gen II engine. Its most striking feature was aqueous reverse-flow cooling with a venting system that duplicated the one he'd brought to Detroit on that day in March, he claims.
The inventor filed two suits against GM in 1994. One was for patent infringement, and the other was for theft of a trade secret.
He had been granted a patent on the aqueous reverse-flow cooling device and its venting system in 1993, but Mr. Evans lost the first suit because in 1991 GM had pre-sold some of its 1992 Corvettes, which employed the Gen II engine. A patent is invalid if the item being patented is offered for sale more than a year before the patent is filed.
Last January, a form GM used as evidence that its engineers invented the Gen II's reverse-flow venting system in 1988 was found to be a forgery.
As bad as that forgery might look, Judge McWeeny noted in his decision that when GM attorneys learned of it, they voluntarily informed the court.
Additionally, the judge pointed out, the only supporting evidence of a "black box" testing procedure was Mr. Evans' own testimony and an entry in his logbook, which no one saw until 1994. In court it was revealed that Mr. Evans' employees at his Sharon company, signed the logbook years after the fact, and one of them had a side agreement with Mr. Evans for half of the first $10 million should Mr. Evans win this suit.
"It is not possible to reconcile the parties' evidence into a consistent narrative of what actually happened," Judge McWeeny complained in his decision.