A big win for Garmin in patent fight

Federal appeals court overturns years of rulings that had favored Navico in long-running sonar technology dispute
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A federal appeals court has overturned years of rulings that had favored electronics manufacturer Navico in its patent disputes with rival Garmin on grounds that Navico’s patents were invalid in the first place.

The June ruling allows Garmin to import any and all of its sonar products to the United States, which the company had stopped doing in December 2015 after a ruling in Navico’s favor.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a December 2015 finding by the International Trade Commission that Garmin had infringed Navico patents related to downscan sonar.

Specifically, the Federal Circuit ruled in a 17-page decision that two of Navico’s patents were invalid and that Garmin’s DownVü sonar does not infringe a third Navico patent.

Navico said it is reviewing its options after the ruling. “Obviously, we are disappointed in the appellate court’s decision following four rulings in Navico’s favor,” says Navico CEO Leif Ottosson. “As a result we are analyzing this particular determination and we are currently reviewing our options for moving forward.”

Prior to the appellate court’s reversal, the International Trade Commission had ruled that Garmin’s products featuring tilted DownVü scanning sonar technology infringed Navico’s patents and that Garmin violated cease-and-desist orders issued in 2015, recommending a fine of $37 million. That was subsequently backed up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Regardless, the Federal Circuit’s decision not only reverses the ITC’s original orders, but also supersedes all related rulings by U.S. Customs and the ITC, including an initial determination that Garmin should be subject to the $37 million fine for selling DownVü products. Now the company is free to import and sell any and all sonar products in the United States for the first time in more than a year.

“The Federal Circuit’s sweeping decision, finding that Navico’s downscan technology was an obvious modification of old sonar systems, puts an end to Navico’s unfounded and vicious patent war against Garmin,” Garmin vice president and general counsel Andrew Etkind said in a statement. “Not only does the Federal Circuit’s decision eliminate the ongoing disputes at the ITC, it renders Navico’s other lawsuits in Oklahoma and Texas without merit.”

“This ruling confirms our strong belief that Navico’s patent claims were not supported by the facts,” Garmin CEO Cliff Pemble said. “Despite Navico’s flood of lawsuits and harassment of Garmin’s dealers, distributors and customers, the industry stood by us during this difficult and unnecessary fight, and for that we are extremely grateful. We look forward to a great 2017 filled with exciting new Garmin products.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue.

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