Thursday, January 04, 2007

More on the Bluetooth litigation

A report in The Daily News (Longview, WA) states of the Washington Research Foundation lawsuit: According to the lawsuit, Bluetooth-based computers, cell phones and headsets made by the companies have violated four patents for research done in the mid-1990s by Edwin Suominen when he was a student at the University of Washington. All four patents are now licensed by the Washington Research Foundation.

The foundation's lead counsel on the case, Steven Lisa, said the court filing followed two years of informal attempts to resolve the issue with the major players in the industry.

"They've had notice of the patent, they've had an opportunity to discuss the matter with us, and we haven't been able to resolve it," Lisa said. "And nobody has presented, for us to consider, a non-infringement or invalidity argument."

Most of any damages received would go to the university and to Suominen, who is serving as a technical adviser in the case, said John D. Reagh, the foundation's manager of business development and legal affairs. The rest would go to the foundation.

IPBiz notes that the earlier-discussed lead patent in the case, the '963, issued only on Oct. 3, 2006, so that there could not have been two years of discussion about its claims.

Further, one is not talking about "the patent," because there is a family: The '963 patent is part of a family of patents: The application leading to the '963 is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/032,526 filed Oct. 27, 2001, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,631,256, which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/317,781 filed May 24, 1999, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,427,068, which is a divisional of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 08/713,761 filed Sep. 13, 1996, now U.S. Pat. No. 5,937,341.

Ironically, this case bears some superficial resemblance to the type of infringement case complained of by Intel (see discussion of continuation patent reform in the journal IDEA). Of course, it's a university behind the patents, not a patent troll [?] It should be interesting to see if the folks of Intel, or the legal academics pushing patent reform, make any comment about this case. To date they have been conspicuously silent about discussion of any troll-like behavior of universities, such as that of Columbia University with the Axel patents.

[From an earlier post on IPBiz:
Mr. Simon
As a result, and in light of the points made by Professors Moore and Lemley, we think continuations are bad, as it makes it virtually impossible to have a licensing discussion with somebody on why you don't infringe because whatever you tell them, they're going to turn around and rewrite their claims to try to cover. But the examiners are overworked, and as pointed out by Mr. Rines, inexperienced.]

The article also noted: CSR [Cambridge Silicon Radio] said in a filing with the London Stock Exchange that the suit is without merit and that the company will "vigorously" defend its products.

As a separate point, one notes that Suominen is a surname common to people from Finland. IPBiz does NOT know where Suominen was born. IPBiz does note the results of a recent report from Duke University, as reported by AP:

A team of researchers at Duke University estimated that 25% of technology and engineering companies started from 1995 to 2005 had at least one senior executive - a founder, chief executive, president or chief technology officer - born outside the United States.

The AP also stated: AnnaLee Saxenian, now dean of the School of Information at UC-Berkeley, estimated immigrants founded about 25% of Silicon Valley tech companies in 1999. The Duke study found the percentage had more than doubled, to 52% in 2005.

California led the nation, with foreign-born entrepreneurs founding 39% of start-ups, even though they make up only 25% of the state's population. In New Jersey, 38% of tech start-ups were founded by immigrants, followed by Michigan (33 percent), Georgia (30 percent), Virginia (29 percent) and Massachusetts (29 percent).

The report also noted: The Duke researchers also found that foreign-born inventors living in the United States without citizenship accounted for 24% of patent filings last year, compared with 7.3% in 1998.

TheRegister had a few stupid comments about the BlueTooth matter.

First, one has the text:

What, exactly, are the technology issues in question? Excellent question! - nobody seems willing to answer it.

"To my best understanding," offered one Bluetooth SIG member, "if you start trying to find which patents are being named, you don't get details: but from conversations, I'd say it seems they are the ones about how you tune the oscillators and clever digital IF stuff."

This is not clever stuff that gets written down. "It's about implementations within certain people's chips. Most of that implementation information is kept very secret by the chip manufacturers."

IPBiz note to Guy Kewney: the patents in question have been named. Look above, and otherwise open your eyes. Also, the first claim of the Oct. 06 patent in question is about a tuning method involving quadrature mixing.

Second, of the text,

And the second mystery: why on earth did Broadcom buy into WRF's licence, if CSR thinks it is "without merit"? Is Broadcom falling behind in the technology development world? Or is CSR behaving unethically?

Different companies approach licensing differently all the time, AND the patentee may offer DIFFERENT deals to different companies. AT&T licensed the Kamil patent (US 4,706,275), even though many entities thought it invalid. AT&T may have paid little for its license, but the resultant leverage may have jacked up the price to second, and later, comers. Here, Broadcom may have entered at the ground floor, and steeper royalties are being sought from the others. Broadcom, in turn, may use the license as a wedge.

Kewney wrote:

I've spoken to technology companies in the past, who have been approached by WRF over patent issues; and as you might expect, not all of them have spoken in praise of the group.

"It's likely they saw some groups of companies, particularly Japanese-owned technology companies, as something of a soft touch," remarked one inventor who has had a brush or two with WRF. "They'd hit the parent company with a host of patent infringement claims, and some of them would be completely unrelated to anything we could see in our portfolio."

Another developer said that "They appeared to think we'd just roll over and sign patent agreements, rather than face their lawyers in court. We saw it as 'money with menaces' really, rather than a serious attempt to show infringement."

IPBiz notes that any idea that Japanese companies are a soft-touch belongs to the days of the dinosaurs.

Third, Kewney is viewing licensing arms of universities as "IP companies":

What is a big surprise, is the sight of Broadcom signing a deal with an IP company [IPBiz note: that is, WRF]. It has apparently surprised not only CSR, but the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG). And (as we show below) surprising the SIG on this matter is quite a trick. It thought it had all bases covered, and spent a lot of time and effort to make sure of it. How could it miss a basic patent, crucial to the Bluetooth technology?

IPBiz recalls, long ago, someone mused that universities might be deemed patent trolls, and wondered why no one had written about that. Of course, as IPBiz noted, someone had written about it. Here is an instance where it has happened again, although a Google search would not reveal this article as saying "the University of Washington is a patent troll," even though that is exactly what the article is saying. [As IPBiz has noted before, Google searches aren't particularly effective in finding webpages with one's inputted keywords, but Google is nonexistent as to searching concepts.]

The Kewney article has more errors (e.g., RIM's adversary is identified as "STP" [sic: NTP] but readers of TheRegister probably don't care.


An IHT article published 7 Jan 07, titled Wireless: Patent suit could stunt Bluetooth's growth, notes

If the case is resolved in favor of the Washington Research Foundation, either in an out-of-court settlement or following a trial, it could hamper the growth of Bluetooth in the United States just as the technology is gaining traction in that market.

Bluetooth has beat out other technologies for a spot inside millions of wireless devices in large part because there no licensing fees for member companies.

Although the lawsuit only relates to Bluetooth products sold in the United States, reverberations are likely to be felt across the technology sector on both sides of the Atlantic, experts say. The action comes at a time when patent lawsuits in the industry are proliferating and — some experts say — threatening to stifle innovation.

"It's true people invest time and money to invent new things because they're protected by patents, but there are companies and universities patenting things that already exist," said Fabio Montobbio, an economics professor at Bocconi University in Milan who specializes in patents.

The IHT article also notes:

"The fact that Broadcom negotiated with us [WRF] and worked out a licensing agreement shows that we are being reasonable and that there is merit to the patent," said Steven Lisa, a patent lawyer based in Chicago who was representing the Washington Research foundation. "We have been in contact with the three companies and CSR for many months prior to the lawsuit, but we haven't been able to make any progress."

Lisa said Nokia, Samsung and Panasonic can sign a license and pay damages, the amount of which he would not specify, or begin using Broadcom chips.

CSR, which is not being sued because it did not sell the disputed chips itself in the United States, said last week that the lawsuit was without merit and promised to defend its products vigorously. Nokia and Panasonic declined to comment except to say that they were still studying the lawsuit. Samsung did not respond to a call seeking comment.

"We took this proactive step of licensing the technology to ensure that our customers would not have to face the issues we now see," Scott Bibaud, the Broadcom vice president in charge of Bluetooth products, wrote in an e- mail exchange.

The IHT article is in the realm of placing WRF as a patent troll. Thus, one has two academic arms, WRF and WARF, being labeled as blockers of scientific progress because of their patent stance.


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