Sonar Wars: the final battle?
The patent war between Garmin and Navico rolls on
Garmin has claimed victory in what could be the last, decisive battle in its long-running patent war with Navico.
The story began in 2010, when Navico launched its Downscan sonar. It used much higher frequencies than conventional sonar, which could be focused into a tight, fan-shaped beam to produce much clearer images of the seabed and underwater structure.
For a few years, Navico had the high-definition sonar market to itself, but in 2013, Garmin and Raymarine launched their own versions – Downvü and Downvision – both using tightly focused fan-shaped beams of high-frequency ultrasound to produce high-definition images.
Navico’s response was to launch a legal war on two fronts, alleging that both of its rivals had infringed the patents that were intended to protect Downscan.
Raymarine rolled over quite quickly. Barely a year after the launch of Downvision, it announced that it had entered into a licensing agreement with Navico – effectively handing over an undisclosed share of the profits from Downvision to its rival.
Garmin, however, was more stubborn, and in 2015 declared itself the winner when an American Administrative Judge found in its favour. But its triumph lasted barely six months, because Navico appealed against the judge’s decision… and won. In December the same year, the International Trade Commission imposed a ‘stop and desist’ order on Garmin, intended to prevent Garmin from importing or selling any Downvü products in the US. And when Garmin ignored the order, the ITC imposed a record fine of $37 million. Now it was Garmin’s turn to appeal. The Federal Court decided that two of the three disputed patents were invalid because Downscan was ‘an obvious modification’ of existing technology, while the third hadn’t been infringed at all. Its decision leaves Garmin free to continue making and selling Downvü sonar, and lets it off the hook of the $37 million fine that had been imposed by the ITC.
Navico’s CEO has been quoted in trade papers as saying that he is ‘disappointed’ and that ‘we are currently reviewing our options for moving forward.’