Continuing its get-tough policy on software pirates, Mitchell Repair Information Co. L.L.C. has pushed its efforts north of the U.S. border.
The company, which operates out of Poway, Calif., as Mitchell 1, is in hot pursuit of more than 60 Canadian automotive repair shops throughout the country that allegedly are using the company's proprietary OnDemand aftermarket repair, estimating and shop management systems illegally. The legal actions it's taking are aimed at shops that are in violation of software copyright laws because they're allegedly either copying and/or selling the OnDemand program.
A company statement said its efforts are the ``result of reports received from a variety of sources that have identified the Canadian repair shop facilities, individuals and several Internet sites in the selling of `burned' and bootlegged copies'' of the Mitchel 1 software. The company is being represented in Canada by Ridout & Maybee L.L.P., an intellectual property litigation firm in Toronto.
Ron Garrett, Mitchell 1 director of original equipment relations and new markets, is responsible for the firm's legal issues concerning software piracy. He told Tire Business the company is working on ``multiple settlements'' with several Canadian repair shops, but he would not specify the total number of shops Mitchell 1 is pursuing nor would he reveal any names or settlement terms, saying those details are all part of settlement agreements.
``When we do find someone who has purchased illegal software,'' he said, ``we do go in and, in many cases, settle with those folks.
``If we find someone pirating software, a whole different scenario takes place with them on how we're going to settle with them to prevent further legal action.''
He acknowledged an obvious ``difference between someone going out and selling the software and someone who's purchasing illegal software. When you look at those, we do still address them because both are illegal actions.'' But, to a point, the company goes after the pirates more strongly than the purchasers.
Last fall, Mitchell 1 obtained a judgment in U.S. federal court in its copyrighted software infringement lawsuit against a Navarre, Ohio, business that operated under the name Brown Auto Equipment. It charged that the owner, Don Brown, had copied and sold the OnDemand software to automotive repair shops that had purchased repossessed computers with the software already installed on them.
The court awarded Mitchell 1 statutory damages and attorney fees in that case, though at that time Mr. Garrett would only say the award ``exceeded $100,000.''
Mr. Garrett was admittedly vague about the company's current actions in Canada and would not say if any shops have been taken to court yet. While the Brown case took that course, others Mitchell 1 is actively pursuing ``won't want to go to that level and usually will cooperate with us,'' he said.
Depending on how the various cases are settled, the company could seek monetary damages-``that's always a possibility,'' Mr. Garrett said-or simply require the shops to cease and desist from illegally using the software. ``If it's a small (violation), I'm probably not going to be as harsh (on them) as someone out there selling multiple copies'' of the software, he explained.
Pauline Bosman, an associate attorney at Ridout & Maybee, called software pirating ``a serious offense'' and said Mitchell 1 is prepared to take whatever legal action is necessary to protect its intellectual property ``and pursue litigation to the full extent of the law.''
Those efforts will be ongoing, Mr. Garrett said, as long as individuals or companies are pirating and selling, or purchasing illegal copies of the company's software.
The company markets various versions of the OnDemand program, which costs approximately $5,000 in the U.S. and more than $6,000 in Canada. It is mainly sold by independent sales representatives in North America, according to Mr. Garrett.
On matters of software piracy, the company is being represented in the U.S. by the law firm Foley and Lardner, and Mr. Garrett said it still is going after a number of shops in the states.
In Canada, the scofflaws are mainly small independent repair shops, he said. ``I think the larger chain shops have much more at risk. There's going to be a structure, where a big shop or chain usually follows corporate guidelines. With an independent shop, the owner is making decisions on a daily basis on how he wants to run the shop and is only responsible for his business entity.''
Mr. Garrett would not say how serious or widespread the piracy problem is, but he noted Mitchell 1 has a ``good infrastructure for getting intelligence information back to the corporate office'' about the situation.
Last year, when the company won the Brown lawsuit, he said Mitchell 1 has various ways of finding out about persons stealing its proprietary and intellectual property. Often times, sales reps will hear ``the word on the street'' that a shop is using an illegal copy of the company's software, or get a tip from ``a friend of a friend.''
Mr. Garrett reiterated that there are laws in place to protect companies from piracy and ``we value our product and are doing the same thing as large software companies like Microsoft do to protect their rights.''