Associations end lengthy legal battles out of court
After years of lawsuits, officials from the International Code Council of Falls Church, Va., and the National Fire Protection Association of Quincy, Mass., reached a settlement on three disputes, according to an Aug. 14 NFPA release.
The disputes include a 2002 lawsuit brought by ICC against NFPA charging copyright infringement; a 2003 lawsuit brought by NFPA against ICC for alleged violation of a 1999 settlement agreement; and a 2004 case over the trademark of the phrase “Certified Building Official,” according to the NFPA release.
“There is unfortunately a long history [of legal disputes] between the ICC and NFPA. … Part of it is just the nature of competition,” says Rick Weiland, ICC chief operating officer. “By concluding these cases, the expenses associated with taking them to trial can be put to better use. It’s a very positive thing for the country and the industry.”
Neither party admitted wrongdoing in the out-of-court settlement, Weiland notes, adding that it was a “difficult negotiation” at times between the parties. But, “ultimately at end of the day, both sides appeared to be comfortable with the terms,” he says.
ICC officials agreed to settle the 2002 copyright suit against NFPA “with prejudice,” preventing ICC from bringing the same charges forward again, according to the NFPA release.
To settle the two other disputes, the ICC paid NFPA for legal fees and other costs brought on by litigation, according to the release. Neither party would disclose the settlement amount.
Maureen Brodoff, vice president and general council for NFPA, says that while NFPA officials are pleased with the terms of the settlement, they are more pleased to have an end to litigation.
“[Lawsuits] waste the resources of organizations. They hurt the industry and they hurt our members,” Brodoff says. “[The suits] made it difficult for some people who wanted to participate in our standards development. They see these lawsuits come about and it makes them question whether their participation could negatively affect them.”
Additional provisions in the settlement will limit future lawsuits.
The long-awaited settlement between the organizations likely won’t affect the day-to-day activities of the industry, says Julie Ruth, code consultant for the American Architectural Manufacturers Association of Schaumburg, Ill.
However, Ruth says it could have an impact on the way parties deal with copyrighted materials in codes and standards.
“The question really had to do with who owned the rights to language that was contained in documents published by both organizations,” she says. “[The settlement] is significant in regards to the understanding that the provisions of a code or a standard are property, and that the organizations that developed that language own the rights to that and how it is used.”
While collaboration between ICC and NFPA may be something for several years down the road, Weiland says it’s not impossible.
“We’re coming off of several years now of litigation and obviously it’s going to take some time. But my hope is that there will be opportunities in the future to work together on things that really make a difference to communities and jurisdictions,” he says. “Public safety is something that any organization, whether competing or partnering, has to keep at the forefront.”
Brodoff agreed: “We’re always open to working with other organizations, and that absolutely would include ICC.”