Two of the world’s largest hearing aid makers, based a few miles apart from each other in Denmark, are waging a potentially epic worldwide legal struggle over patent issues that may be critical to both their futures — and to the future of “Made-for-iPhone” hearing aids. GN Store Nord, whose GN ReSound hearing aid unit introduced the first iPhone-compatible hearing aids, this week lost a battle with arch-rival Oticon but insists it should ultimately win the war.
The Danish Eastern High Court this week issued a preliminary injunction preventing GN ReSound from selling certain hearing aids in Denmark that Oticon claims infringe on its patented technology. Immediately after the ruling, a defiant GN Store Nord issued a news release noting that the preliminary injunction only affects older hearing aid models, not GN ReSound’s Made-for-iPhone Linx2 and Beltone Legend hearing aids. Further, it declared that the ruling will not slow down the company’s momentum in the Made-for-iPhone hearing aid market that is driving GN Store Nord’s overall growth.
“The only products that are relevant for the preliminary injunction are consequently ReSound Verso and the corresponding Beltone First,” GN said in the news release. “Hence, no impact on GN ReSound’s global commercial performance is expected.” The news release went on to say that GN Store Nord strongly disagrees with the ruling by the Danish Eastern High Court, that “GN Store Nord is of the firm opinion that the products in question do not infringe Oticon’s patent,” and that “we strongly believe that the patent is invalid.”
While this week’s ruling applies only to the ongoing patent battle in the Danish market, the war is being waged globally. In April 2015, Oticon filed a suit in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, home of GN ReSound’s U.S. operations, claiming infringement of a patent related to wireless communication technologies Oticon says ReSound is using in its hearing aids, including new Made-for-iPhone models: “These infringing devices include at least the ReSound Verso VO961-DRW, ReSound Linx LN961-DRW, and all hearing aid devices that employ wireless radio frequency (RF) communication technology materially similar to that employed in these devices.”
Hearings on additional judgments in the suits are expected to extend into 2016 and possibly beyond.
Patent battles often are waged quietly, out of the public eye, and frequently settled out of court. But the issues at stake for both ReSound and Oticon are large, and both appear to be digging in their heels for a long fight. With wireless digital technologies expected to be at the core of future hearing aid products — and with the wireless Made-for-iPhone hearing aids starting to drive growth in the hearing industry overall — this is one patent war that will be worth watching.