Bose vs Harman Upheld

The use of elliptical plastic ports in some loudspeakers has proven expensive for Harman International Industries.

On December 20, the Washington, DC–based audio conglomerate confirmed that a federal appeals court upheld a 2000 decision that found Harman in violation of patents held by Bose, Inc., of Framingham, MA. In 1998, Bose launched the patent-infringement suit against Harman's JBL Inc. and Infinity Systems over the use of the elliptical ports. Harman contested the suit and lost in September 2000, but decided to appeal the judgment. Products with the disputed feature were discontinued two years ago.

"We expect our appeal to be successful," Harman CEO Bernard Girod said then. "If, however, the judgment is not reversed on appeal, it will not have material consequences for the company. We have provided for such contingencies in our business plan." Damages at the time were reported at $5.7 million. That figure has risen to $8 million with the recent appeals court affirmation of the patent violations.

Harman officials say they will pursue further appeals, and that the US Patent and Trademark Office will re-examine the patent covering the elliptical port design, which has been used by other manufacturers—although only Harman has felt the legal heat from Bose.

Bose has a long-established reputation for dominating its market niche and for staunchly defending its trademarks and other intellectual property. Years ago, Thiel Audio was on the losing end of a threatened trademark violation suit brought by Bose over the use of numbers with decimal points as model names—such as the "Bose 2.2." The legal section of the Bose website contains a long list of registered terms and model names. Other manufacturers are strongly urged to review the list to be sure they are not in violation.