In Florida, auto entrepreneurs battling Toyota over hybrid-related patents
Wake up and good morning. Must be something in Florida's west coast humidity, but a couple of small entrepreneurial companies here claim Toyota's ripping off their patented ideas to make better vehicles. And they are fighting back against the huge Japanese corporation.
The latest spat involves closely held Paice LLC of Bonita Springs, Fla. Last week Paice filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington, claiming Toyota is infringing its patent. The company seeks an order to ban imports of Toyota products using its invention. In theory, that could include a U.S. import ban on its Prius and other hybrid models, Bloomberg News reports. Unlike civil courts, the ITC cannot order Toyota to pay royalties, but it can exclude vehicles in question.
According to Bloomberg news, Paice won a jury verdict in 2005 that the Prius and hybrid Highlander (see photo) and Lexus RX400h sport-utility vehicles used Paice inventions related to drivetrains. The new International Trade Commission complaint claims the hybrid Camry, third-generation Prius, Lexus HS250h sedan and Lexus RX450h SUV infringe the same patent. Here's the complete Bloomberg story.
That same patent, Bloomberg notes, will be at the center of another trial set to begin Oct. 1 in federal court in Marshall, Texas, involving the Camry. Paice claims the hybrid sedan infringes two other patents. A second case pending in Marshall involves claims of infringement of another patent by the Highlander and Lexus models.
Paice is headed by Robert Oswald, who became Paice’s CEO after a career in the automotive industry, most recently as CEO of Robert Bosch Corp., the North American subsidiary of Robert Bosch GmbH.
Further north on Florida's west coast, another company's fighting with Toyota at the ITC over hyrid motors. Solomon Technologies Inc. of Tarpon Springs lost a case in which it claimed its technology for transmission drives was used in Toyota Prius, Highlander, Camry and Lexus vehicles. The David-versus-Goliath fight was covered in the St. Petersburg Times in 2006. An appeals court last year upheld the ITC’s decision.
Solomon recently began identifying its home as Danbury, Conn., rather than Tarpon Springs though when that transition happened is not clear. Solomon still has a pending civil suit against Toyota in federal court in Tampa. Toyota is trying to get it thrown out by arguing the issued was resolved by the ITC.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist