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Judge dismisses crowd dummy case

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A Los Angeles federal court judge has invalidated two patents held by a California company that provides inflatable dummies to fill up scenes in which large crowds are needed.

In December, Grover Beach-based Crowd in a Box sued its competition, the Inflatable Crowd Co., claiming that it held two patents on the use of multiple "life-sized humanoid figures" to simulate background crowds.

But last week, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Klausner disagreed with Crowd's contention and dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the two patents were invalid because of their "obviousness."

Klausner's eight-page ruling Oct. 9 focused on Crowd's 2004 and '05 patents and whether they were indistinguishable from other similar dummies used in TV and film before the patent.

Santa Monica-based Inflatable Crowd, he wrote, "cites several examples of prior art that would motivate one reasonably skilled in the art to use inflatable dummies to simulate a background crowd." Klausner went on to cite several examples of the use of crowd dummies before the patents, including in the "The Natural" and "Legends of the Fall."

"We are grateful but not surprised by Judge Klausner's ruling," Inflatable's owner Joe Biggins said. "The use of dummies has been a part of filmmaking for most of its history. We have always welcomed fair competition on a level playing field. May the best mannequin win."

Inflatable's credits include "Ocean's Thirteen," "Blades of Glory" and "Spider-Man 3."

Crowd's client list includes "Be Cool" and "Nacho Libre" as well as several companies, including Viacom, Fox Sports and Showtime.

Neither Crowd in a Box nor its attorney could be reached for comment.