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Autonomous Vehicles

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In a rapidly evolving industry, AV companies need tech-savvy counsel who can anticipate future trends rather than merely react to them.

The concept of commercial autonomous vehicles, also referred to as AVs, is not new, but only recent technological advances have made it possible to develop and implement sophisticated autonomous driving functionality. Over the past decade, AV has become one of the most rapidly growing markets in the automotive industry, with more than 33 million AVs expected be sold annually as early as 2040. However, the development and implementation of AV technologies are complex and present a broad range of technological and regulatory challenges.

With over 100 years of experience in the automotive industry and an established record of success in patenting and litigating high-tech innovations, Fish & Richardson is uniquely positioned to help AV companies obtain, protect, and enforce their IP rights. Many of our attorneys who practice in the AV space spent years working in the field as engineers, software developers, researchers, and analysts, giving them an insider’s perspective on their clients’ concerns. Clients come to Fish from all corners of the AV industry, from fledgling tech startups to the industry titans of Detroit and beyond.

Our team has expertise in an extraordinarily broad range of relevant technologies, including:

  • Software and information technology
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Automotive systems
  • Telecommunications
  • Mobile apps
  • Navigation
  • 5G
  • Electrical and computer technologies
  • Data security and privacy
  • Wireless networking

The unrivaled breadth of our technical bench means that no matter what technology our clients work with, we likely have a relevant expert on our team.

The AV industry is evolving rapidly. To keep up with the pace, AV companies need tech-savvy counsel who can anticipate future trends rather than merely react to them. Fish’s interdisciplinary team of AV specialists keeps its clients one step ahead through its unparalleled combination of legal, technical, and industry expertise.

Key Focus Areas

Many countries, including the United States, impose limitations on patentability for data compilations, source code, machine learning, and iterative or incremental development of algorithms, which are often at the heart of AV technologies. As such, companies in the AV space need experienced attorneys who can draft and prosecute patent applications that not only adequately cover their inventions, but that can survive subject-matter eligibility rejections intact. Our patent attorneys are the best-equipped to do so; with a winning combination of legal acumen, technical skill, and knowledge of the USPTO, Fish’s allowance rate for software-related patent applications is consistently above the USPTO average.[i] Once we develop a strong patent portfolio that fully covers our clients’ inventions, we then monitor its success and frequently review its assets to ensure that they continue to serve our client’s goals.

As the AV industry continues to grow and evolve, stakeholders want to ensure that they maximize the value of their IP for investment, partnership, and acquisition opportunities. Thorough and efficient patent due diligence executed at the right time is thus essential to determining the full value of the IP involved and whether the transaction will properly serve the parties’ long-term objectives. Comprehensive IP due diligence typically involves several phases, including identification of potential IP assets; patentability, infringement, and freedom-to-operate analyses; ownership and inventorship determinations; and future litigation risk assessments. With extensive experience on both sides of the due diligence equation (buy-side and sell-side), we know how to position our clients for success.

Historically, automotive companies rarely engaged in IP litigation with each other, but this may change with respect to AV technologies. Litigation is also expected to extend to original equipment manufacturers and component suppliers for automotive manufacturers. When disputes arise that threaten a company’s profits – or even continued operations – the ability to litigate effectively is crucial. Fish is the #1 IP litigation firm in the United States, and is the go-to firm for handling complex, bet-the-company IP litigation. We have an extensive record of winning the largest IP cases worth billions of dollars, often when an entire business is on the line. That is why the world’s most innovative companies trust Fish to handle their mission-critical IP litigation.

Cross-industry standardization and interoperability are becoming the norm. Nowhere is that trend more evident than in the AV industry, which requires the cooperation of players in several different industries to function. While a patent on a core technology in an emerging industry can be tremendously valuable, SEP owners also face complex licensing requirements that may vary across international borders. Fish is at the forefront of the development of the law surrounding SEPs and FRAND licensing, and we have extensive experience counseling companies on SEP and FRAND issues. We work with our clients to determine whether any of their patents cover standard essential technologies, pursue global filing strategies, and align prosecution strategy with standard submissions strategy, as well as develop FRAND licensing agreements that will maximize their revenue while maintaining fair access to their technologies.

Trade secrets can be a useful alternative to patent protection in the AV context. Fish has extensive experience helping clients protect their sensitive business information and novel, market-disrupting innovations using the full gamut of intellectual property law. Where we determine that information is best protected under trade secret law, we create systems and procedures to ensure that sensitive business information remains legally protected as trade secrets and that they are guarded against loss or theft. We also have an extensive track record of success in obtaining injunctive relief for trade secret misappropriation and litigating trade secret disputes arising from licensing agreements, joint ventures, economic espionage, employment relationships, and many other sources.


[i] Juristat, as of 2/3/21: USPTO software allowance rate: 66%; Fish software allowance rate: 74%.

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