In many of the intellectual property suits that make the news, it’s easy to see the penalties or consequences as something of an abstraction. Dollar figures in an article never do seem quite real; it’s not as though the stories come complete with a picture of the pile of cash to be handed over to the winning party. And in the case of massive corporations, those figures never seem that much relative to what we think or know of that company’s bottom line; what’s a $50 million judgment against annual revenue many multiples greater than that?
Losing your ability to do business is something that hits different, something that any entrepreneur or even employee can understand. And that is exactly what Daimler is facing in a patent lawsuit brought by a mobile tech company.
Japanese firm Sharp has taken the automaker to court over allegations of patent infringement, claiming that Daimler is using Sharp’s patented mobile technology in its cars without permission or license. Daimler’s defense in the case asserts that the burden of licensing such technologies should fall to the suppliers providing the parts; it’s a defense that the court hasn’t seen fit to agree with.
More importantly, Sharp won an injunction against Daimler over the alleged infringement, which, when paired with a similar infringement granted to Nokia against Daimler, leaves the automaker in a bind. As a result of the injunctions, Daimler now finds itself in a position wherein it might face a temporary halt to its sales in Germany, based upon the vagaries of EU intellectual property law. Nokia can enforce its ban, currently under appeal by Daimler, if it posts a collateral of 5.5 million euros against an eventual reversal of the decision; it’s an interesting wrinkle to IP law, and one that would be intriguing if it were introduced in the U.S.
While an injunction isn’t unfamiliar to U.S. court proceedings, the idea of a halt on sales, particularly in the case of something as ubiquitous and expensive as cars, puts into perspective the actual consequences that IP cases can carry. Even for big corporations, millions of dollars paid to lawyers and settlements and judgments is money that can’t be spent elsewhere, and that ultimately has very real consequences for real people at that company, who may lose projects or funding or even their job. It’s something worth considering in looking at these kinds of stories in the future.