Bonita Springs company claims Toyota violated patent rights on hybrids

A Bonita Springs-based company is trying once again to stop the importation and sale of Prius and other hybrid vehicles in the U.S., claiming Toyota Motor Corp. infringed on the Florida company’s patent.

The U.S. International Trade Commission said Tuesday it will investigate a complaint that Paice LLC filed against Toyota alleging patent infringement in several vehicles, including the Prius, Camry and Lexus.

Paice could not be reached by phone at its Bonita Springs office or through its spokesman Tuesday.

“It is a long process and we are fairly confident that we will prevail in the ITC proceeding,” said Toyota spokesman John Hanson.

The complaint filed last month is the latest in a series of steps against the Japanese automaker and two of its North American affiliates.

In 2004, Paice sued Toyota for patent infringement of its hybrid electric vehicle technology and won a partial judgment, receiving about $4.3 million in damages, reports show.

The court declined, however, to prohibit sales. Paice instead receives royalties from sales of certain models of Prius, Highlander and Lexus. Two other lawsuits are pending.

Paice’s trade commission complaint suggested the federal body prohibit the vehicles from entering the U.S. market because a court had already determined that Toyota had infringed on Paice’s patent.

Toyota said on its Web site that Paice’s complaint with the ITC was merely an effort to bypass the court’s decision for seeking a ban on hybrid sales.

Paice does not manufacture cars, but developed a power system to run them, the company’s Web site said, though it is in talks with potential partners to manufacture hybrid cars that will use Paice’s technology.

Paice posted a blog on its Web site by Eric Lane, a patent attorney in San Diego, who suggested the investigation would be one to watch for those affected by green technology patents.

“With this ITC action, Paice is ratcheting up the pressure on Toyota to pay a large sum in settlement and/or licensing fees,” Lane wrote. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this could be ... one of the biggest green patent stories we’ve seen so far.”

A judge will hold hearings and make an initial determination as to whether the trade rules were violated and that decision will be reviewed by the ITC. A date for completing the investigation will be set within 45 days.

Connect with Tara E. McLaughlin at www.naplesnews.com/staff/tara-mclaughlin/

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