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Dispute over vehicle 'spy' device patent flashes into court

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A Carmel company that markets a device which plugs into a car’s diagnostic port to monitor the vehicle's performance has filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against a better-known competitor.

CarCheckup LLC alleges that Irvine, Calif.-based CarMD.com Corp. infringed on two of its patents and seeks triple damages in a suit filed June 28 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

CarCheckup cites two patents it filed in 2004 and 2005. The local company didn’t bring its product to market until recent years, however. It sells the product through its website for about $150.

CarMD has a better-known retail presence and its products can be found on shelves at Pep Boys stores. It also sells its vehicle diagnostic devices through Amazon.com, on the Home Shopping Network and via infomercials.

The lawsuit does not specify exactly how CarMD allegedly infringes on CarCheckup’s patents or on how it allegedly has dinged its business. Both company’s products plug into a vehicle’s diagnostic port and upload data to a customer’s personal computer.

The founder and CEO of CarCheckup, Jennifer Funkhouser, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

It’s not clear how many units her company has sold or whether it has had any success getting onto shelves of mass-market retailers.
 
Defendant CarMD has been around since the 1990s. CarCheckup was founded in 2002.

"We have received the complaint and are currently reviewing the matter. We are confident of a favorable outcome, but cannot comment any further while the matter remains pending,” said CarMD CEO Ieon C. Chen.

Onboard diagnostic devices first surfaced for mechanic use decades ago as automakers started cramming more electronics under the hood.

After the more-capable OBD II diagnostic system was installed by automakers in the mid-1990s, numerous companies hit the market with diagnostic readers that plug into a port under the dashboard.

Funkhouser’s device stemmed from a project for a class at Indiana University taught by serial technology entrepreneur Scott Jones, who heads Carmel-based ChaCha Search Inc.

Her CarCheckup device found favor with real estate agents needing to track data such as miles traveled and trip and time duration. It also showed potential in fleet-vehicle management.

One curious use is in tracking teen driving behavior by monitoring speed and how hard a car accelerates and brakes.

Like competitor CarMD, Funkhouser’s device also retrieves trouble codes stored onboard to catch hidden vehicle problems.

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