With sales of Toyota hybrids booming in its home country and elsewhere across the globe, Toyota leads the competition in the hybrid market.  Seemingly every hybrid model developed by the company fares well including the newly released Lexus HS 250h.  So what could hold Toyota back in this hybrid race?  Patent infringements could.  Depending on the judgment by U.S. courts, Toyota's imports of certain hybrid models could theoretically be entirely blocked from the U.S. shores.

Toyota faces patent infringement claims from a company called Paice LLC.  Paice filed an official complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission on Thursday in Washington, D.C.  The fling, not immediately available for public viewing, claims that Toyota has infringed upon several of the patents awarded to Paice in regards to drive trains for hybrid vehicles.  Paice's filing seeks a complete ban on several Toyota models from out market including the Prius, Highlander Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, and several Lexus hybrid models.

Does Paice have a viable case?  Back in 2005, Paice won their initial case against Toyota claiming that the Prius, Highlander and Lexus RX400h used Paice inventions related to drive trains. The next trial is set to begin in a federal court in  Marshall, Texas in October.  This trial claims that the Camry hybrid infringes on the same patents discussed above.  An additional case also looms ahead in Marshall claiming that both the Highlander hybrid and all Lexus hybrid models infringe upon those same patents.

The trials listed above are minor, and Paice wants the case heard in Washington which is the reason for their newest filing in this nation's capital.  If the International Trade Commission agrees to hear the case of Paice LLC vs. Toyota Motor Corporation, the trial could begin immediately and last for up to 15 months.

If Paice wins, the commission has the power to entirely block all imports of the infringing models from our shores forever.  Toyota should be concerned as this could significantly impact hybrid vehicle sales in the U.S.  Though the case does seem to be a great example of the class David Vs. Goliath tale.  But Paice does have the previous victory over Toyota going for them and at least a fighting chance of winning the case if and only if the commission agrees to hear it.

Imagine Toyota with no hybrids to sell in the U.S. and an EV years away.  They would be in a heap of trouble hear if Paice manages to prove that the company stole their innovations.  We will have to wait and see if the commission will hear the case and whether or not Toyota hybrids will exit our country for a long time.

Source:  Detroit Free Press  Print Edition