WASHINGTON—The U.S. International Trade Commission has voted to institute an investigation based on the complaint by Toyo Tire Holdings of America Inc. that 22 tire manufacturers, importers and sellers are infringing on Toyo's design patents.
In its Aug. 14 complaint, Toyo and its affiliates—including Toyo Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd., Toyo Tire U.S.A. Corp., Nitto Tire U.S.A. Inc. and Toyo tire North America Manufacturing Inc.—accused the 22 companies of infringing on eight separate design patents held by Toyo in the U.S.
The companies manufactured, imported and distributed passenger and light truck tires that violated the patents, Toyo said. It sought to bar the further importation of the tires, as well as a cease-and-desist order forbidding the sale of those tires already in the U.S.
Twelve of the 22 companies answered Toyo's complaint Aug. 28, in response to the ITC's call for comments on how granting Toyo's petition would affect the U.S. public interest. In their response, they said U.S. tire buyers and businesses would suffer injury if the ITC granted Toyo's petition.
"Excluding the proposed respondents' tires will seriously diminish the supply of tires in the U.S. and thus increase the price paid by the consumer," the companies said.
The companies also contradicted Toyo's contention that its manufacturing facility in White, Ga., could meet the demand left by the exclusion of the tires covered in its complaint.
"Toyo does not have the capacity to meet the expected U.S. consumer demand for UHP, M/T and A/T tires, and … several other U.S. manufacturers cannot either," they said.
Toyo- and Nitto-brand tires, they said, cost 25 to 65 percent more than the tires covered by the complaint. "If the commission enters the remedial orders, the expected shortage in supply of tires made or sold by proposed respondents will inevitably drive consumers to much-higher-priced Toyo tires," they said.
Toyo issued a news release Sept. 16, immediately after the ITC announced it would pursue the investigation.
"Toyo…has over the years developed and introduced passenger and light truck tires with designs that are both innovative and unique," the company said.
"As part of Toyo's efforts to protect the company, its customers, and associates from unfair competition, Toyo chose to protect its intellectual property rights by filing a complaint with the ITC," it said.
The ITC's chief administrative law judge now will assign the investigation to one of the agency's administrative law judges. Once that happens, the judge in charge of the case will schedule and hold an evidentiary hearing.
Within 45 days of Sept. 16, the ITC will set a target date for completion of the investigation. Toyo said ITC investigations usually are completed within 13 to 15 months.
The companies that filed the comment to the ITC docket are American Omni Trading Co. L.L.C., Doublestar Dong Feng Tyre Co. Ltd., Dunlap & Kyle Co. Inc., Guangzhou South China Tire & Rubber Co. Ltd., Hong Kong Tri-Ace Tire Co. Ltd., RTM Wheel & Tire, Shandong Yongtai Chemical Group Co. Ltd., South China Tire and Rubber Co. Ltd., Svizz-One Corp. Ltd., Turbo Wholesale Tires Inc., Vittore Wheel & Tire and WTD Inc.
The other respondents are Weifang Shunfuchang Rubber & Plastic Co. Ltd., MHT Luxury Alloys, Wheel Warehouse Inc., Shandong Linglong Tyre Co. Ltd., Unicorn Tire Corp., West KY Customs L.L.C., Tire & Wheel Master Inc., Simple Tire, TireCrawler.com and Lexani Tires Worldwide Inc.