Japan's largest steelmaker Nippon Steel has filed patent infringement lawsuits against Toyota Motor and China's Baoshan Iron & Steel.
Nippon Steel is accusing the companies of infringing its patents related to non-oriented electrical steel sheets -- key materials used in motors for electric and hybrid vehicles.
The steelmaker is seeking about 20 billion yen, or about 176 million dollars, in damages from each firm in the lawsuits filed with the Tokyo District Court on Thursday.
Nippon Steel has also asked the court to issue an injunction barring Toyota from manufacturing and selling in Japan electric vehicles whose motors contain the steel products in question.
Nippon Steel notes that Baoshan made non-oriented electrical steel sheets in China and sold them in Japan to Toyota, which used the products to manufacture hybrids and other vehicles for sale.
The steelmaker says it held talks with Toyota, but that they failed to lead to a resolution. It says the technology is so strategically important that the firm cannot tolerate what it deems patent infringements.
In a statement, Toyota called Nippon Steel's action extremely regrettable. The automaker said the matter should have been discussed between suppliers.
Toyota said the firm routinely asks suppliers to prevent infringement of patents on materials it plans to procure from them, and that it did so before signing a contract with the steel supplier.