GN Store Nord A/S, Copenhagen, has announced in a press statement that the Regional Court of Düsseldorf (Landgericht Düsseldorf) has issued a default judgment against Oticon GmbH for infringement of GN ReSound’s European patent on datalogging. According to GN, the judgment contains an injunction covering the German market and prohibits Oticon GmbH from marketing and selling all products that make use of the patented technology, including Oticon’s premium product Alta2, as well as Nera2 and Oticon Medical’s Ponto Plus and Ponto Pro.

GN also reported that the court has ordered Oticon GmbH to:

  1. Pay damages to GN ReSound for infringement of the patent;
  2. Recall all infringing products from the market;
  3. Deliver up all infringing products in stock with the aim of destruction, and
  4. Pay legal fees to GN ReSound.

Oticon will almost certainly appeal the judgment.

As background, GN explained that, on January 25, 2013, Oticon A/S filed a notice of opposition against GN ReSound’s patent with the European Patent Office (EPO). The EPO has stated in its preliminary opinion of October 6, 2015 that it considers the patent valid. A hearing is scheduled for April 7, 2016.

Much Ado About Nothing? Although this sounds pretty bad for Oticon GmbH and its parent group, William Demant Holding (WDH), its neighbor GN would have to enforce the injunction to cause any real economic hardship to WDH in the German market. And, if that were to occur, GN would then be on the hook for any economic losses that WDH might incur should a court agree with an appeal and/or reverse the judgment (Germany makes up about 10% of the world hearing aid market). Moreover, if GN takes that substantial risk and enforces the injunction, WDH could presumably just de-activate the datalogging feature in question and/or replace it.

In my view, this is one more patent battle in a long line of patent battles that probably ends nowhere. An unusual amount of press has swirled around the patent disputes between these two global hearing aid manufacturers. Due to this, the Hearing Review’s November 2015 Blogpage featured an excellent editorial by Holly Hosford-Dunn about the ongoing “Danish Drama” concerning claims that some GN products using wireless technologies (eg, antennae technology) are infringing on two Oticon patents.

Here’s my admittedly cynical take on all this: Hearing Review could probably devote a quarter of its content to ongoing patent disputes. As with all high-tech industries that feature very competitive companies and similar products, patent lawsuits are filed constantly in the hearing industry to the point of banality. From an editorial standpoint, they are often difficult to explain and contain minutia few people who are not engineers understand or even care much about, they are usually inconsequential to dispensing professionals, and the majority are settled quietly by a cadre of lawyers and executives over the phone or in a law office—not by a judge in a courtroom. In short, they don’t make for great reading, or drama.

It’s no secret that the rivalries between the three major Danish hearing aid companies (WDH, GN, and Widex) are intense and go back to their companies’ inceptions—and in this case are exacerbated by the fact that WDH and GN’s headquarters in Kongebakken and Ballerup are almost within shouting distance. Judging from the market analysts’ lack of concern, this latest “drama” poses only minor economic consequences. The reality is that GN and WDH are in a patent fistfight free-for-all, and the media has noticed.

However, given all the other things that should command our industry’s attention—the impending PCAST and IOM reports, PSAPs and lower-priced hearing aids, the increasing influence of Big Box and mass retailers, etc—I’m not convinced this makes for riveting reading material. —KES