As reported previously on this blog, there was quite some confusion about whether Opel, the largest employer in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, owns some key patent rights – and this confusion remains.
This weekend several papers reported on the (Euro 100 million) investment plans of Magna International Inc. and the Russian Sberbank regarding General Motors’s Opel unit, with an additional Euro 400 million to be offered in the form of a no-interest loan backed by collateral.
Among all the open issues (financing, employment and pension issues, competition law aspects, etc.) it remains unclear whether Opel owns key patents or whether it has only the right to access them. This makes of course a huge difference. If General Motors continues to own the patents, Opel’s access rights could be withdrawn at any time. In addition, Opel would have to pay licence fees – and these reportedly almost reached 1 billion US$ in the past few years.
Such licence fees would constitute another crucial burden for Magna (or any other potential investor) – however the question of patent ownership proves that difficult that not even Alfred Hagebusch, the German government's trustee appointed to run Opel following GM's application for protection from its creditors, seems to have an answer to it; the memorandum of understanding signed by Magna and GM is silent on the issue of patent fees.
2005 Opel transferred all patent rights to GM subsidiary GTO - but GM reserves the rights to key technologies, such as for fuel cells or hybrid cars. Whatever the answer - GM and Opel will try their best to avoid letting their rights fall into the hands of the competition... For more background and news on this click here and here.
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