A small technology company in Washington has filed a federal lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. claiming that the small company developed the technology behind the Ford Sync system.
The company, Eagle Harbor Holdings, alleges that Ford infringed on seven of its patents for the technology behind Sync and some other safety technologies such as Active Park Assist, Blind-Spot Identification System with Cross Traffic Alert, Integrated Control System for Stability Control, and MyKey.
Jeffery Harmes, general counsel for Eagle Harbor, said in a statement that representatives of the company began meeting with Ford in 2002 to discuss using the technology in vehicles.
Harmes added that Ford broke off communications with Eagle Harbor in 2008.
“Unfortunately, despite our many efforts to communicate with Ford and resolve these issues, Ford continues to refuse to license its use of our patented technology,” Harmes said in the statement. “Ford is ignoring our patent rights and continues to use, without permission or license, Eagle Harbor's technology."
A Ford spokeswoman said the automaker would not comment on the suit -- filed last week -- until it has an opportunity to fully review it.
Sync, which lets users operate certain vehicle functions via voice controls and wireless connectivity, has been available since 2007.
It has been installed in nearly 4 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. Ford says about 80 percent of buyers opt for the feature.
But Sync has drawn scrutiny from federal safety regulators who are exploring driver distraction.
An updated version of Sync, MyFord Touch, has drawn negative reviews from Consumer Reports for its complexity. It was also a leading factor behind Ford’s drop in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.
Katherine E. White, a law professor at Wayne State University, told The New York Times that Eagle Harbor would need to prove that Ford’s technology executed “the same function, in substantially the same way, to get the same result” as its own technology.
White added that she didn’t think Ford would have to stop production of vehicles equipped with Sync. The most that could happen, she said, was that the automaker would have to pay royalties to Eagle Harbor.