LG Ups the Ante in Standoff with Sony

LG Ups the Ante in Standoff with Sony

Dan Whalen is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

Electronics giant LG obtained a preliminary injunction from the Civil Court of Justice in the Hague barring the import of Sony’s PlayStation 3 (PS3) gaming console into the European Union. While it is only the latest escalation of the two companies’ intellectual property standoff, the raised stakes may finally lead to a settlement.

The injunction was granted following LG’s assertion that Sony had infringed upon the South Korean company’s patented Blu-ray technology within the PS3 console. The potential consequences of the accusation are severe. As the Guardian reported, Sony is importing upwards of 100,000 consoles per week to meet consumer demand. Although it has stock to sustain Europe for three weeks and the embargo is set to last only 10 days, LG may secure an extension if Sony fails to overturn the injunction. The Japanese company is currently appealing the decision to the European Patent Office. If Sony’s patent on the Blu-ray technology is ruled invalid, however, the company could potentially have to pay LG a fee for every console it has sold to date. As of February, that figure looms at approximately 47.9 million units worldwide.

Sony’s PS3, complete with Blu-ray functionality, was first released in 2007 – yet this row marks the first time that LG has raised a claim in protest. So what gives? It may help to learn that the PS3 affair is one of several ongoing patent disputes between the two companies. Among them, LG claims that its patents were infringed by the technology used in Sony’s Bravia TVs. LG asked the International Trade Commission (ITC) to order Sony to stop selling the TVs and, accordingly, the regulatory agency announced that it will investigate the claim. Similarly, last December, Sony asked the ITC to bar US import of LG mobile phones on grounds that LG had infringed on several Sony patents in the area.

Specific details of LG’s claim against Sony’s PS3 remain elusive, so it is difficult at this stage to assess the merits of the South Korean company’s claim. In light of the foregoing series of disputes, however, it could be that LG’s action are part of a tactic to pressure Sony into settling. If so, Sony’s initial acts of defiance seem to call LG’s bluff.