Garmin hit with $37M fine from ITC over violations of cease-and-desist order on sonar products

“Garmin” by Tony Webster. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

On Wednesday, May 31st, Reuters reported that multinational tech company Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ:GRMN) will likely be the target of a $37 million fine levied by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). The fines result from Garmin’s business activities in marketing marine sonar imaging devices in violation of a cease-and-desist order resulting from a Section 337 patent infringement investigation.

An official statement released by Garmin on the case indicates that the company will appeal the ITC’s early initial determination that Garmin’s sale of DownVü sonar products was in violation of the cease-and-desist order. “Even if affirmed by the ITC, the ruling has no impact on Garmin’s customers or dealers,” Andrew Etkind, Garmin VP and general counsel, is quoted as saying. “Additionally, the ruling does not impact in any way Garmin products with ClearVü sonar functionality, which have been on the market since 2016.”

The ITC had ordered Garmin to cease-and-desist the importation and sale of marine sonar imaging devices, including downscan and sidescan devices, back on December 1st, 2015. That order came about a year and a half after the ITC instituted the Section 337 against Garmin on July 9th, 2014, after allegations of patent infringement made by Norway-based marine equipment developer Navico, Inc. The Section 337 investigation led the ITC to conclude that Garmin’s DownVü sonar products infringed upon two Navico patents:

  • U.S. Patent No. 8305840, titled Downscan Imaging Sonar. It claims a sonar assembly for imaging an underwater environment beneath a watercraft traveling on a surface of a body of water which results in better quality sonar images for water columns, including fish targets.
  • U.S. Patent No. 8605550, same title as the ‘840 patent. It claims a sonar transducer assembly with a plurality of rectangular transducer elements producing sonar beams both parallel and perpendicular to the transducer’s longitudinal length which provides improved downscan imaging of underwater environments.

Navico filed a complaint with the ITC on August 30th, 2016, alleging that Garmin was still marketing sonar devices in violation of the December 2015 cease-and-desist order. The formal enforcement proceeding leading up to the recent $37 million fine was instituted on October 11th, 2016. A final determination in the case is expected to be issued this August. At least one news report indicates that Garmin has been working on creating an alternative design for its sonar products which will allow it to operate without violating the ITC’s ruling.

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