WASHINGTON-The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) is investigating Michelin North America Inc.'s complaint that the Kumho Group is infringing upon a Michelin tire tread patent.
The ITC ordered the investigation July 31 to review Michelin's charges that the Kumho 962 steer tire-which is imported into the U.S.-uses a narrow shoulder rib configuration that Michelin has registered under U.S. Patent No. 4,480,671.
Michelin said the tread currently is featured on its own XZA-1, XZA-1+ and XZA2 tires. The tires from both companies are used on the steering axles of long-haul transport vehicles, the ITC said.
Michelin is seeking a ``cease and desist'' order against Kumho's importation and sale of the tires in the U.S., as well as ``undefined'' damages.
Kumho said it will ``actively contest the allegations'' and ``vigorously defend against Michelin's charges of patent infringement.''
``Kumho intends to prove that the patent asserted by Michelin.*.*.*is invalid and not infringed by any tire manufactured by Kumho,'' the South Korean company said in a statement.
Named in the complaint are Seoul, South Korea-based Kumho & Co. Inc., which does business as Kumho Tire Co. Ltd., and Fontana, Calif.-based Kumho USA Inc., which was renamed Kumho Tire USA Inc. on June 1. Both businesses are part of South Korea's Kumho Group.
The commission has designated a presiding administrative law judge to determine if there is a violation of Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930. That decision is subject to review by the commission.
Section 337 declares unlawful the importation, sale for importation or sale after importation of products in the U.S. ``that infringe a valid and enforceable U.S. patent,'' according to an ITC document. In the case of patent infringement, ``no resulting injury need be found.''
Violators of the section are liable for civil penalties of up to $100,000 a day or twice the value of the imported items. The ITC will make a final decision at the ``earliest practical time'' and announce a target date for completion during the first 45 days of the investigation.
Kumho said the ITC doesn't restrict imports covered by the complaint during an investigation.