Courts & Crime

Lead-free ammo company wins patent infringement case against government

A Florida-based ammunition company and its remarkable chief inventor have beaten the federal government in a patent infringement case, and been awarded at least $15.6 million in damages, with more to come.

In a decision unsealed Dec. 31, U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Charles F. Lettow agreed with Liberty Ammunition’s contention that the Defense Department infringed on the company patent for high-performance, lead-free ammo.

The patented bullet will pass straight through many hard targets, like a car windshield, but will fragment destructively inside a soft human target rather than simply pass through.

“The issue is . . . unless that through-and through passes through a critical organ like the brain, you don’t incapacitate the target,” one military expert testified bluntly during the 11-day trial last year.

The dispute has its roots in the military’s Green Ammunition Program, initiated in 1995 during the Clinton administration. The initiative arose, in part, from “mounting concerns that lead from lead slugs at small-caliber firing ranges was penetrating soil and polluting ground water,” Lettow recounted.

The Defense Department wanted to find replacements for bullets designated the M855 and the M80. Enter Mr. P.J. Marx, whose title as chief of research for Liberty Ammunition barely scratches the surface of his astonishing background.

As recounted in Lettow’s decision, Marx at the age of 13 used money provided by his father to become minority partner in a retail music store. After finishing high school, he founded a music

distribution company and created a product line of vacuum tube amplifiers and electromagnetic transducers for the domestic market. He later formed PJ Marx Pickups and Electronics, which focused on transducers and guitar assembly work. He currently is the inventor of ten United States patents.

“In the late 1990s, Mr. Marx moved from Nashville, where he had been touring with musical groups and playing guitar, to Florida,” Lettow noted.

Then came the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Mr. Marx felt obligated to to try to make a contribution to the war effort,” Lettow stated. “After the 9/11 tragedy, Mr. Marx sold his business, and in 2003 he began meeting with members of the firearms industry to explore solutions to the M855.”

The full, complicated history is recounted in Lettow’s opinion, which did not side with Liberty in every respect.

In addition to the initial damages amount of $15,617,533.68, Lettow ordered the Defense Department to pay royalty amounts of 1.4 cents per round for rounds purchased between April 2013 and October 2027, when the patent expires.

Stephen B. Judlowe, of the firm McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter, represented Liberty Ammunition.