Thu, Oct 05, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Sharp eyes patent profits as focus shifts

‘INDUSTRY LEADERS’:The lawsuit against Hisense, which acquired the rights to sell Sharp-branded TVs in the US, accuses the firm of selling low-quality products

Bloomberg

An attendee takes a photograph of an Aquos 8K ultra-high-definition TV in the Sharp Corp booth at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies trade show at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, Japan, on Tuesday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Sharp Corp’s US legal battle with Hisense Electric Co (海信) marks the start of an aggressive new campaign by the Japanese electronics company to obtain royalties on its patents as it focuses on ultra-high-definition (UHD) TVs and “smart” home devices.

Osaka, Japan-based Sharp plans to be more assertive when it comes to demanding patent royalties and might even start filing lawsuits against anyone found using Sharp inventions without permission, a company executive said in an interview.

“As devices become more sophisticated and complex and interconnected, device developers really need to pay more attention to what patents are out there,” said Rey Roque, vice president of strategic business development for Sharp Electronics in Santa Ana, California. “You’ll see us asserting our rights — whether that leads to more litigation, I can’t say at this time.”

Sharp’s main patent case so far has been against Hisense over Wi-Fi enabled TVs. The US International Trade Commission last week agreed to investigate a complaint that Hisense is infringing Sharp patents.

Hisense is fighting the patent infringement allegation in a proceeding that could lead to a ban on US imports of some of its TVs. The company filed legal papers blaming Foxconn Technology Group (富士康) for Sharp’s new push.

Foxconn bought a controlling stake in Sharp in August last year, turning the electronics maker into a profitable company.

In 2015, Hisense signed an agreement to take over Sharp’s manufacturing facility in Mexico and obtain the rights to sell TVs under the Sharp brand in the US.

Sharp has filed a lawsuit accusing Hisense of selling low-quality products with the Sharp name.

“After the acquisition, Sharp and its new owner had second thoughts about the relinquishment of the Sharp brand for the US market and began a multifaceted effort to recover or undermine the rights that Hisense acquired,” Hisense said in a Sept. 13 filing with the US trade agency.

Roque declined to go into detail about the Hisense case, but said the company would consider litigation on a “case-by-case basis.”

The Japanese electronics company does license its patents to “industry leaders,” Roque said, without naming companies.

The electronics market is increasingly tense as companies try to protect their profit margins while consumers demand lower prices. That could lead to efforts to cut the amount of royalty payments made on components or features.

The push to protect its patents runs parallel to the company’s new focus.

Sharp in August unveiled 8K UHD TVs, which the company said display images at 16 times the resolution of high-definition TVs and at “ultimate reality, with ultra-fine details even the naked eye cannot capture.”

Sharp is also looking to extend so-called smart home devices that help people regulate heating or appliances in their homes from afar beyond the home through connected devices so that “appliances will become our partners in addressing the needs of both individual households and society as a whole,” it said.

Sharp does have some experience with intra-industry patent battles over new technologies. Almost a decade ago, it was embroiled in patent fights with Sanyo Electric Co Ltd, AU Optronics Corp (友達) and Samsung Electronics Co over LCDs.

All of those cases were settled.

Still, Sharp is more often the defendant in lawsuits in which patent owners file cases against large tech companies in hopes of big paydays.

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