Business Law & Compliance

The four companies suing, or being sued, on an industrial scale

7 min read

23 April 2015

In January 2015, Sarvint Technology filed complaints against nine major apparel companies for patent infringement of its smart shirt technology. However, four companies have highlighted what it really means to go on a mass suing spree.

The technology used by Sarvint, dubbed “the world’s first Wearable Motherboard”, comprises of two Georgia Tech Research Corporation patents, both of which Sarvint was given exclusive rights to in April 2014.

Its first smart shirt, which measured vital signs that can be monitored on a smart phone, has been lauded as a technological breakthrough. In fact, the original can be found in the Smithsonian Institution.

However, when it was showcased at a Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, it was evident that Sarvint had competition. Among the exhibitors was French entrepreneur Jean-Luc Errant, who had produced a smart shirt for joggers.

According to Sarvint, however, these efforts represent the “unauthorised manufacture, use, sale, offer to sell, and/or importation” of products infringing on its patents.

“Intellectual property is one of a technology company’s most important and valuable assets,” said co-founder Palaniswamy Rajan. “Sarvint does not favour litigation, but we recognise that it is our duty to protect the company’s intellectual property any time someone misappropriates it. We want these companies to discontinue business activities that infringe on our intellectual property.”

The company went on to sue nine firms, including Ralph Lauren, Victoria’s Secret and Adidas. 

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Normally this would sound like a big number, but four corporations have managed to pass the 30 mark when it came to mass suing sprees. Similarly, businesses have also managed to amass the same amount of lawsuits by stepping on the toes of various firms.

Converse sued 31 companies

Shoemaker converse sued a whopping 31 companies for infringing on a 100 year-old design.

According to the company, its rivals were copying its iconic Chuck Taylor design developed back in 1917. Of course, it was referring to the All Star, easily recognisable via a star logo on the ankle and white rubber toe caps.

CEO Jim Calhoun said he had no objection to fair competition, but did not believe companies had a right to copy the Chuck’s trademarked look.

The lawsuit also included a complaint made to the International Trade Commission, whereby the Converse bosses asked that all imported replicas be banned.

Furthermore, Calhoun claimed the company had sent 180 legal cease and desist notices to  to companies it accuses of nabbing its trademarked designs.

BP was faced with over 225 allegations

Who can forget the cataclysmic fall of BP in 2010? Perhaps less well-known is the fact that the company managed to rack up more than 225 lawsuits in 11 states, all within two months after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded.

In addition to the claims from five states along the Gulf shore, coastal businesses and property owners in Georgia and South Carolina sued for damages from the drifting oil.

Investors in three states also sued BP’s board of directors for allegedly causing more than $50bn in shareholder losses by failing to implement safety policies that would have prevented the spill. 

BP was held liable to all the damages caused by both the spill and the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon. Almost all the lawsuits also name Transocean, which owned the rig, along with Cameron International and Halliburton Energy Services, which provided the rig’s blowout prevention equipment and cementing services, respectively.

Ironically, the companies also sued BP itself.

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TQP has sued over 1,600 companies

Texas-based firm TQP only has two employees, but that hasn’t stopped it from taking on the big dogs. Michael Jones filed a 1989 patent application for an “encrypted data transmission system employing means for altering the encryption keys”. Its other staff member is TQP’s owner Erich Spangenberg, who bought Jones’ patent.

Together, the two have launched suits against hundreds of firms, claiming that their use of a cryptographic protocol in the HTTPS-encrypted portion of their web properties violates the patent invented by Jones. 

Spangenberg’s targets have included Apple, Google, Intel, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard. 

Many companies chose to settle with TQP instead of taking the case to trial. This has included Apple, Amazon, Dell, and Exxon Mobil.

“When the government grants you the right to a patent, they grant you the right to exclude others from using it,” Spangenberg said. Of course, he had no qualms with taking action despite not using the encryption himself, or even having a website.

Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East Board took on 97 companies

In 2014, a New Orleans regional levee board voted in favour of pursing an environmental damages lawsuit against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies.

The list of names included BP, Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Shell.

The drama first unfolded in July 2013. The board suggested that 10,000 miles of oil and gas canals, as well as pipelines, had cut through Louisiana coastal lands. 

According to the company, each hour, Louisiana loses about a football field’s worth of land. 

Of course, this led to the government signing a bill which would block any future board’s from filing a lawsuit against oil and gas companies.