Patent Infringement Claim the Latest Salvo In Sharp’s Seller’s Remorse Saga

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by: Patrick Anderson | July 18, 2017

Chinese manufacturer Hisense acquired Sharp’s brand name and other related assets back in 2015 for nearly $24M. Shortly thereafter, Hisense began pitching it’s own branded products at a premium, while relegating the once-proud Sharp name to a discounted brand, according to an unfair competition suit filed back in June. The lawsuit was seen as “an indication that negotiations over terminating the trademark and brand licence … have broken down” according to Jacob Schindler at IAM Magazine.

Just yesterday, in the Southern District of New York, Sharp attorneys at K&L Gates filed a patent suit against Hisense alleging that, “[r]ather than innovate and develop its own technologies for Wi-Fi enabled devices, such as its so-called ‘smart’ televisions, Hisense has elected to take these technologies without permission from Sharp.” Readers may recall IAM’s Jack Ellis previously noted that Sharp held the “28th largest portfolio of active, granted US patents …, with 13,040 USPTO-issued assets to its name.” Thus, one might think that Sharp can easily leverage this portfolio to bring Hisense back to the negotiating table.

However, that might not be as easy as it seems. From this portfolio, Sharp managed to identify a meager two patents upon which to allege infringement, US 9,148,874 and US 9,258,074. Parsing a 13,000+ patent portfolio is no easy task, and with high-priced lawyers like the ones you’ll find at K&L Gates, it’s also not a cheap one. This lawsuit is likely little more than a posturing move by Sharp. Most likely, under the control of Foxconn, Sharp hopes that Hisense fears not just the assault of a couple of patents, but also Sharp’s willingness and ability to identify other patent assets to deploy strategically.

What’s more, Sharp will not necessarily have to pay for patent analysis to gain additional leverage. It can quietly throw open the doors to its arsenal to strategic privateers willing to acquire and assert other segments of its portfolio. These companies may be willing to use their own analytics methods and report back to Sharp, for free, where the value lies from both asset quality and prospective licensee angles.

Whatever Sharp’s plan, it’s clear that they will not give up their quest to reclaim their American branding rights, and we’ll keep an eye on their next move.

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