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US probing BMW, Honda, Toyota, others for alleged patent violations

The violation focuses on thermoplastic covers for various engine components.

MUNICH, GERMANY - MARCH 07: The headquarter of German automaker BMW is pictured after the celebration marking the 100th anniversary of BMW on March 7, 2016 in Munich, Germany. BMW began as a producer of aircraft engines in Germany during World War I, later began producing motorcycles and in 1928 its first automobiles. BMW AG is the parent company of BMW Group, which also owns the car brands Mini and Rolls-Royce. (Photo by Lennart Preiss/Getty Images)
Lennart Preiss/Getty Images

While a single company might commit a patent violation, a new investigation to that end involves a handful of companies in the auto industry.

The US International Trade Commission, which helps oversee intellectual property infringement cases, has opened an investigation against a number of automakers and suppliers over an alleged patent violation. The investigation began after Intellectual Ventures II, a patent holding firm, filed a complaint with the USITC.

If the companies under investigation are found at fault, Intellectual Ventures II could find itself on a receiving end of a very fat check.

Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images

The complaint alleges that various automakers and suppliers -- including Honda, Toyota, BMW, Aisin and Denso -- utilize thermoplastic components that violate Intellectual Ventures II's patent. The parts are used in a variety of modern vehicles sold in the US, and can be found in a number of parts, including water pumps and power-steering units.

Reuters reports that vehicles affected by this complaint include the 2016 Toyota Camry, 2016 BMW 2 Series and 2017 Honda Accord. BMW did not immediately return requests for comment, while Toyota and Honda declined to comment.

While a complaint has been filed, it hasn't been determined whether it actually carries weight. The USITC will assign the case to a judge, who will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether or not to proceed further. The USITC has 45 days to set a target date for the estimated completion of this investigation.

It's doubtful that automakers would have to remove the vehicles in question from the road. If they're found to be in violation of Intellectual Ventures II's patent, odds are the companies will have to pay a relatively hefty fine.