Base forfeiture tripled because offender is a multi-billion dollar global enterprise.

Here’s another reminder to stay on top of the licensing paperwork. Especially if your company is successful.

A company called Remel, Inc. manufactures and supplies microbiology products for clinical, industrial, and research laboratories. Its corporate parent, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Inc., is a global supplier of analytical instruments, laboratory and diagnostic equipment, chemicals and reagents, and related products and services.

The companies, like many others, use two-way radios. They say their radio supplier told them, incorrectly, that the radios did not require an FCC a license. (Apparently this happens a lot.) On finding out that a license is in fact required, the companies turned the radios off and applied to the FCC for a license on a different frequency for a higher-powered radio, which the FCC subsequently granted.

The FCC remained concerned, though, about the period of unlicensed operation, which spanned some nine years. Moreover, a frequency the companies used over that time was allocated to the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS), a service intended for use by individuals, not companies. GMRS radios are popular with families on camping trips, and the like. In fact, only individuals, and not companies, are eligible for a GMRS license.

Not many individuals bother, though. Our friends over at note that the fee for a GMRS license is many times the cost of the radio equipment, so that only a very small fraction of GMRS operators actually obtain one. (Our law partner Peter Tannenwald wishes it known that he shelled out the eighty bucks and is duly licensed.)

The FCC could have acknowledged that Remel and Thermo Fisher made an honest mistake and fixed it, and then let the matter drop, or possibly charged a small forfeiture. Instead it proposed a forfeiture of $30,000. The FCC also emphasized that Remel and Thermo Fisher, not being individuals, would not have been eligible for a GMRS license. This put the FCC once again in the odd position of imposing sanctions for failing to obtain a license that the FCC would not have granted.

The base forfeiture for operating without a license is $10,000. The FCC tripled that on the ground that Thermo Fisher is a “multi-billion dollar global enterprise” and so “should expect the assessment of higher forfeitures for violations.”

The takeaway: Check your licenses. Don’t ever believe your radio supplier. And prepare for extra penalties if your company makes a lot of money.