Briefly Noted: NFPA and ICC Settle IPR Litigation

It's not often that you see standards organizations sue each other, but two - the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and the International Code Council (ICC) - have been going at it hammer and tongs for the last several years.  Both are accredited "standards development organizations," (SDOs) and follow the same business model that almost all such organizations do to underwrite their activities: they sell their completed standards. 

In the case of construction codes (the types of standards at issue here) and other long and detailed standard sets, the amounts at issue can be substantial, not only on a per-copy basis, but in volume, since compliance with building, safety, and other such codes is mandatory.  Trademarks and copyrights can therefore be as important to non-profit SDOs as they are to any other business that relies on selling a product or service to keep the lights on.

Of course, as is also true for any type of business, litigation is expensive and wasteful of resources that can better be spent on furthering the SDO's mission.  That reality appears to have won out in this case, with the two parties settling all three outstanding suits rather than taking any of them to a final decision in court.

Now that the dust has settled, it appears that the NFPA had the better hand over all, based upon a read of the detailed press release issued by the NFPA on August 14, as compared to the much shorter, terse notice released by the ICC two days later.  The two releases offer predictably different spins on the settlement, as the following excerpts demonstrate:

ICC withdraws copyright infringement lawsuit against NFPA and pays NFPA an undisclosed amount for legal fees and costs associated with this and other litigation  

August 14, 2006  – The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) announced today that NFPA and the International Code Council (ICC) have settled several disputes relating to copyright and trademark issues. The settlement protects NFPA’s right to continue to publish and distribute its NFPA 5000®, Building Construction and Safety Code® and resolves issues related to NFPA’s and ICC’s trademarks….As part of the settlement of these disputes, ICC has agreed to pay NFPA an undisclosed amount of money for legal fees and costs associated with the litigations.

ICC, NFPA reach out-of-court settlement

August 16, 2006 – The International Code Council (ICC) has reached an out-of-court settlement in three lawsuits with the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The cases-one brought by ICC and two brought by NFPA-involved copyright and trademark issues.

“The time had come to put all these disputes behind us,” said ICC Chief Operating Officer Rick Weiland. “We would rather focus on serving our members and the public than continue to spend a lot of time and money on lawsuits.”

Neither party admitted any liability or wrongdoing in any of the cases. Weiland noted that the settlement agreement includes provisions designed to reduce future lawsuits between the two organizations.

“We were confident we would win the cases, but at tremendous expense into the millions of dollars,” Weiland said. “We want to invest our resources in public safety and in the thousands of communities across the country that use our family of International Codes.” 

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