Ford Combats Patent Trolls Targeting Automakers

Feb 11, 2015 03:00 PM EST | Jordan Ecarma

Patent trolls similar to those that plague the technology industry have been hard at work going after carmakers as well, suing Ford alone more than a dozen times between 2012 and 2014.

Also called patent assertion companies, the groups essentially exist to collect patents, initiating patent lawsuits even though they don't manufacture any products of their own. The argument is that purchasing a patent is akin to buying any other property, giving a patent assertion group the right to go after anyone who is using that particular asset.

Last year, 107 such lawsuits were filed against automakers. But Ford doesn't plan to take patent trolling lying down, according to a report from Automotive News.

"We take the protection and licensing of patented innovations very seriously," a Ford spokesman wrote in an e-mail to Automotive News. "And as many smart businesses are doing, we are taking proactive steps to protect against those seeking patent infringement litigation."

The automaker has teamed up with a company called RPX, recently signing a deal with the San Francisco-based organization that is purportedly a defense against patent trolls. RPX has spent around $1 billion collecting patents that could otherwise be used against its members, which include Intel, Microsoft and Samsung.

Members pay $1.5 million each year to join the firm, which gives them collective access to the patent portfolio and protection from potential lawsuits. RPX is looking to gather automotive patents to add to a collection that is currently mostly focused on information technology.

While members are still spending money, they avoid the entanglement and elongated expense that come with long-drawn-out court battles over patents.

Cropping up during the dot-com era, patent trolls have won billions of dollars through their process of buying up patents and initiating lawsuits.

In one example that focuses on the auto industry, patent assertion group Signal IP sued Ford in April 2014 along with BMW, Fiat, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Volkswagen and Volvo, Automotive News reported. Signal IP alleged in the lawsuit that these automakers were fringing on its patents with a variety of electronic features such as keyless entry.

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