A family firm from Northumberland has been given a court date at which it will take on one a global giant over claims that it stole its trade secrets.
Miller UK launched litigation against the US construction giant Caterpillar in 2010, alleging the one-time customer used confidential documents during the two firms’ working relationship to create a rival product.
Now, as the lengthy deposition stage in the case draws to a close, Miller UK has been told it finally has a date to have the case heard, with a civil hearing to be heard on October 26 in the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division.
Miller UK director Jacqui Miller said: “We do now have a date. We believe we have a strong case and we look forward to our opportunity to proved in court.
“This is a true David vs Goliath case and we may be just a small business from Northumberland but we are doing this on behalf of small firms everywhere, as a message to the big companies, to show that we can’t be walked all over.”
The bitter trans-Atlantic dispute began when a client agreement between the two firms came to an end after a long, mutually-beneficial business relationship.
Caterpillar had a supply agreement with Cramlington-based Miller UK which gave the American firm exclusive rights to sell the Miller Bug Coupler in the US.
The coupler went on the production line in 1999 and swiftly became an international industry leader, helping Miller UK’s revenues to rise to £38.7m.
In 2008, however, Caterpillar dealt Miller a catastrophic blow by ending the agreement, a move which Miller claims led to the loss of just under 300 of its 400-strong workforce.
Keith Miller, who founded the firm in 1978, was the main negotiator with Caterpillar who, he claims, repeatedly led the North East business to believe that it would continue to purchase from and help to grow the business.
He alleges to have sat through countless phone calls and face-to-face meetings in which they denied they were working on a similar product.
The firm pulled through the credit crisis that followed, but said it was left reeling when it emerged soon after that Caterpillar was making its own version of the bug coupler.
Miller UK claim Caterpillar have used Millers’ own designs to make the rival coupler, drawings only given to them as part of a confidentiality agreement.
The family firm – run by siblings Keith, Jacqui and Gary Miller – alleges fraud, trade secret misappropriation and breach of confidentiality agreements, and is seeking more than $100m in damages and compensation.
Keith Miller added: “We have been waiting a long time for this and we are pleased that we will have the opportunity to let everyone see that Caterpillar cannot treat suppliers in this way.”