What the Supreme Court’s Latest Patent Decision Means for Automotive Suppliers

patent

Although U.S. patent law has long-established limits on enforcement after a patented product has been sold, the technological innovations may put a bulls-eye on the automotive industry for patent litigation.  However, when suppliers patent components sold to other downstream suppliers or to OEMs, the list of potential patent infringers may have just gotten a lot shorter thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision decided 8-0 this week in Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc., No. 15-1189 (U.S. May 30, 2017).  In this case, the Court took affirmative steps to limit the control a company may exercise under patent law over subsequent sales of its patented product.

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Car Accidents Involving Autonomous Cars, Who is Liable?

crash

With automated cars comes hopes of safer driving, more efficient commuting, increased productivity, reduced human errors, and fewer accidents. However, as self-driving cars becomes a reality, car accidents may lead to legal controversy over who is responsible for the accident; the manufacturer or the owner?

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Multi-District Litigation Reform and the “Fairness in Class Action Act”

In addition to it taking a swipe at class actions, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017 (the “Fairness in Class Action Act”), would lead to multi-district litigation reform (MDL), limiting its reach in federal court.

Like class actions (covered in our last post), multi-district litigations, or MDLs, can pose a tremendous threat to corporate defendants caught in their crosshairs.  They pose their own set of challenges, though: unlike class actions that bring in a group of unnamed plaintiffs under one single case, MDLs collect a group of individual cases under one consolidated pretrial proceeding in a single forum.  Generally, a sampling of these cases are then chosen for “bellwether” trials tried by the MDL judge, the outcome of which gives the parties an idea of what a settlement range for the cases should look like.  If a settlement isn’t reached, the remaining cases—which may number in the thousands—are tried, either in the MDL court or in the court where the case would have been venued but for the MDL.  It is not hard to see the opportunity for enormous cost and enormous exposure in cases where this mechanism is used.

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Class Action Reform and the “Fairness in Class Action Act”

While the Congressional legislative agenda has taken a back seat in the headlines lately, the fact remains that there still is an agenda, and it includes class action reform.

The agenda item of interest is H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017 (the “Fairness in Class Action Act”) which would also lead to multi-district litigation (MDL) reform. With class actions posing a major threat to corporate bottom lines, and MDLs a large driver of litigation in federal courts (the current MDL listing includes numerous OEMs and suppliers), the automotive industry has a vested interest in how class action and MDL reform plays out.

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