Last month, Ford Motor Company (Ford) and hybrid vehicle technology company Paice LLC (Paice) each sued the other over allegations that Ford's Fusion hybrid infringes Paice's U.S. Patent No. 5,343,970 ('970 Patent). The two lawsuits were filed the same day in different courts.
Paice's complaint (paice-ford_complaint.pdf), filed in the Eastern District of Texas, alleges that the Ford Fusion infringes at least claims 7-8, 25 and 39 of the '970 Patent.
In particular, the complaint notes that the car uses a “variable voltage booster” to raise the voltage the battery supplies to the vehicle's electric motor.
Ford filed its suit in the Eastern District of Michigan seeking a declaratory judgment (DJ) that Ford does not infringe the '970 Patent and that the patent is invalid.
According to Ford's complaint (ford-paice complaint.pdf), in addition to the allegations made against the Fusion, the hybrid version of its Escape vehicle is also at risk of being targeted for infringement by Paice.
Ford brought a similar DJ action against Paice back in 2005, but the case was dismissed for lack of DJ jurisdiction.
Ford's complaint mentions that case and points out that the Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit have since lowered the bar for establishing DJ jurisdiction by eliminating the necessity that there be a “reasonable apprehension of imminent suit.”
Ford is not the first automaker to face Paice and the '970 Patent; Paice has been relatively successful in enforcing the '970 Patent against Toyota.
In the fall of 2007, the Federal Circuit affirmed a jury verdict that the Toyota Prius, Highlander and Lexus SUV infringed two claims of the '970 Patent under the doctrine of equivalents.
In that case Paice was awarded about $4.3 million in past damages and an ongoing royalty of $98 per infringing vehicle sold.
Toyota also is fighting to avoid an exclusion order that would bar importation of the third-generation Prius and other hybrid vehicles Paice has accused of infringement in an investigation currently pending before the U.S. International Trade Commission (see previous posts here, here, here and here).
The '970 Patent is directed to a hybrid electric vehicle in which the drive train uses a microprocessor and a controllable torque transfer unit (28) that accepts torque input from both the vehicle's internal combustion engine (ICE) and its electric motor.
The microprocessor controls the amount of torque provided by the ICE and the electric motor by locking or releasing bevel gears (94, 96, 98, 100) and holding torque inputs constant.
Eric Lane is a patent attorney at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps in San Diego, where he works in the Intellectual Property and Climate Change & Clean Technologies practice groups.