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Vacuum Inventor Cleans Up to Tune of £17M

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A reformed fraudster said today he would take his family to Disneyland after winning a £17 million payout from Electrolux, who he claimed stole his invention for a vacuum cleaner.

John North, 67, from Norfolk, accepted the huge out-of-court settlement from the manufacturing giant after a lengthy legal battle.

The divorced father-of-three said most of his payout would be poured back into his own design and manufacturing company, but some would be saved for a family holiday.

But he was less keen to talk of a five-year jail sentence he received in the mid-1970s when he was convicted on theft and fraud charges.

He was jailed at Norwich Crown Court in 1975 after the judge said he "milked" his company, Oilfield Marine Services, and obtained £60,000 from business customers by "gross deception".

"That's well in the past. That's spent and finished with," Mr North said.

"That's dead and gone and I don't want the past fished back up again."

Mr North, who lives at Briar Court, Norwich, said he took his state-of-the-art upright, bagless vacuum cleaner design to Electrolux several years ago, but they rejected his proposal.

However during a shopping trip months later he saw a remarkably similar machine in an electrical store.

"I just took it apart and looked at the workings," he said.

He accused Electrolux of copying his invention without permission.

"It was so simple that they thought "anybody could do this'," he said.

"We decided to take them on. It took over two years before everything got to a courtroom."

Mr North filed the lawsuit in 2002 in El Paso, Texas, and had sought £56 million, along with punitive damages, from Electrolux, based on its sales of three million units.

Just as the case went before the jury, Electrolux " the world's biggest electrical appliance manufacturer" decided to settle out of court.

Mr North was unable to disclose the size of the settlement under a confidentiality clause, but Electrolux confirmed that it was 30 million dollars.

The company added that it stood by its assertion that there was "no merit" to the claim.

Mr North said: "We have got a good settlement. We can get on with our lives."

Electrolux can continue to manufacture the vacuum cleaner under the settlement, he said.

He said he stood to lose about £5 million if he had lost the case.

"We spoke to the jury afterwards and they reckoned they would have been out for another four or five days. I don't know whether I could have stood that," he said.

Mr North was accompanied in Texas by his son David, who runs a fish and chip shop in Norwich.

The dispute centred on his bagless vacuum cleaner with what Mr North called an "improved cyclonic separation system".

The system uses a helical device "a downward spiral" to push the dirty air through a chamber which filters out the dirt.

Mr North said he now plans to get his four sons and seven grandchildren "on a plane and go to Disneyland".

Mr North is leaving Texas for Gatwick on Friday and will return to his home where he will plan his holiday.

Electrolux said in a statement: "Per the agreement, Electrolux will pay the plaintiff 30 million dollars and the plaintiff has agreed to drop all claims, including future claims, in the matter."

The statement added: "Electrolux entered into the settlement because it brought the matter to an end with a known outcome rather than the uncertainty of a jury decision. The group maintains that there is no merit to the charges"

From The Scotsman

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