Car design firms have been on the frontlines of patent battles in recent years, as companies that make popular designs for cars have been challenged by smaller companies that claim designs that are infringed upon.
The industry has taken steps to address the situation with new, more stringent rules for design patents and a new set of guidelines that allows design firms to stand firm against infringement claims.
But the companies’ efforts have come at a cost.
Last month, a group of design firms including Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp., and Porsche AG filed a lawsuit against Toyota Motor Company alleging that Toyota’s Toyota Camry SUV infringes on Volkswagen’s “Jetta” and “Porsche Carrera” design patents.
The lawsuit alleges that Volkswagen and its affiliates have “faked, fabricated, and distorted the specifications” of Toyota’s Camry, which it claims is the first mass-market automobile to use a rear-view camera system.
The suit seeks damages for a variety of infringement claims, including for a violation of the “implied terms and conditions” of a design specification.
The groups argue that Toyota has failed to adequately protect the Camry design patents, as well as the others that were licensed to it.
Volkswagen and Porsche have not yet responded to requests for comment.
A judge granted Volkswagen’s request to dismiss the lawsuit on June 2, and Porsche said it will appeal.
But Volkswagen’s lawsuit against Porsche does not cover all of the other patents that are part of the lawsuit, and some of the design patents have been extended, according to a VW spokesman.
“The decision of this lawsuit does not impact the validity of any other design patents filed against Volkswagen,” said a VW spokesperson.
The new rules put into place last month allow design firms like Daimler AG and Daimling Automotive AG to stand up for design and intellectual property rights.
But some firms say that they are taking a tougher stance against infringement by smaller firms that are using cheaper materials and other components.
“It’s really a matter of survival for design firms,” said Dan Vosk, a senior vice president at global design firm Arup.
“They have a lot of patents and they don’t have much money.”
That’s what makes the case of Toyota against Volkswagen so important, said Voskso.
“Because it was the first car company to use front-facing camera systems and this is the car company that’s the target of the lawsuits,” Voski said.
Volkswagen has not released a statement on the lawsuit.
“Our goal is to protect design and patent rights,” a Volkswagen spokesperson said.
The German carmaker says that Volkswagen did not infringe on any of the patents.
Volkswagen’s new guidelines also give designers a lot more flexibility to design their own cars.
The guidelines, which will take effect in the second half of the year, will allow design studios to make their own designs and will allow designers to create prototypes for their cars.
Design studios that have already created designs for their vehicles can now apply for the same patents.
“If you design your own design and you make the car you can patent the car,” Voosk said.
“That means you can take the design and get the same kind of protection as a design that’s done by a design studio.”
In a statement, the designers of the Volkswagen Camry said they were disappointed with the ruling.
“We are very happy with the decision.
The ruling is a huge step forward for design, and a good step forward against Volkswagen and other companies who have used cheap, generic materials,” the statement read.
“This is the final stage in the fight against the protection of design patents against companies who use cheap, cheap, or generic materials.”