- Created: Thursday, 20 May 2004 10:38
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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