Automotive

Steptoe works with automotive companies to overcome complex problems, manage risk, and capitalize on new opportunities.  We have decades of experience representing a diverse array of clients – from the most recognizable names in the field to emerging companies born from the sector’s rapidly changing technologies.  Our work involves Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs), suppliers, and dealers, and issues that involve local, national, and international law.  Some of our lawyers held prior in-house positions with automotive enterprises, giving our team a practical understanding of our clients’ business objectives as well as their legal issues.

Intellectual Property:  Several lawyers in Steptoe’s Intellectual Property Group have devoted substantial portions of their practice to servicing clients in the automotive industry.  Among their areas of focus are:

  • Patent Litigation:  We have represented both OEMs and suppliers in over 20 district court patent cases, as well as a number of related ITC proceedings.  We are familiar with all types of automotive technologies, including voice recognition software, GPS technology, vehicle entertainment systems, and tire pressure monitoring systems, to name a few.  Our experience in the industry has given us a firm grasp on a substantial amount of prior art, and has allowed to develop strong relationships with top experts in the field.
  • Post-Grant Proceedings:  In September 2012, Steptoe became one of the first law firms to file petitions for an inter partes review (IPR).  Since that time, we have filed over a dozen IPRs for various companies in the automotive industry.  Few firms have this much IPR experience in the automotive space.  Notably, every one of the IPRs we have filed has been instituted, and we have been successful in leveraging the IPR results into advantages in co-pending district court litigation, often involving stays or significant leverage in settlement. 

Litigation:  When disputes arise, our clients sometimes favor alternative dispute resolution, including mediation and arbitration, but when a trial becomes necessary, our skilled litigators can draw on substantial experience in matters relating to the automotive industry.  In particular, we have handled antitrust litigation regarding dealer incentive programs, products liability cases involving airbags, roll-overs, crashworthiness, and unintended acceleration.  Lawyers in our litigation and tax practices work with automotive clients to resolve the legal and business issues around employment, unions, pensions, and benefits. Steptoe also represents companies and individuals from the automotive industry in confidential criminal grand jury investigations, as well as in additional investigations regarding parts and products.  

Privacy and Cybersecurity:  Steptoe’s highly regarded Privacy and Cybersecurity practice blends familiarity with the automotive industry with many years of senior government service.  In one recent example, we advised a major automobile manufacturer on privacy issues concerning advanced telematics technology that it planned to deploy in its cars, adopting an approach that allowed the company to obtain the data it needed without disrupting its production schedule and without running afoul of privacy and consumer protection laws or raising concerns among its customer base.  

Regulatory Compliance and Public Policy:  Steptoe has been involved on behalf of motor vehicle equipment manufacturers in significant NHTSA recall investigations and rulemakings, and we have advised motor vehicle industry participants on regulatory obligations arising under the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act and other applicable safety laws.  We also advise clients on core import and export compliance issues (such as classification, value and country of origin), and economic sanctions, anti-boycott compliance, and FCPA/anti-corruption compliance.  

To help ensure compliance, we provide strategic communications counseling and issue management, and we represent our automotive clients before all major US regulatory agencies such as the NHTSA, the Departments of Commerce and State, the US Congress, and state legislatures.

International Trade: For our automotive clients, Steptoe lawyers have worked on antidumping and countervailing duty investigations, as well as customs issues.

M&A and Corporate Transactions:  We offer our automotive clients sound transactional advice, and have advised them on proposed sales contracts, proposed provider agreements, and the negotiation of long-term supply contracts.  In addition, we have negotiated automotive assembly supply agreements, and the related plant construction, ground lease, and equipment financing agreements.  

Antitrust & Competition: Our US antitrust and EU competition law practice has advised both major manufacturers and tier 1 and tier 2 parts and systems suppliers on various antitrust issues, including mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, cartel/price-fixing investigations, pricing and distribution issues, franchise and dealer incentive issues, matters involving the intersection of intellectual property and antitrust laws, and antitrust compliance programs, under both US and European Union law.  We represent clients in merger and cartel investigations in the US before the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) (where several of our antitrust partners have worked), and the US Congress; and in the European Union before the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition (DG Comp).  As competition law enforcement has spread around the globe, so has our experience in advising clients on merger and cartel matters in various other jurisdictions, including EU member states, China, Japan, and Korea.