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Apple, others hit with lawsuit over '90s Ethernet patents

post #1 of 68
Thread Starter 
A Texas company has targeted Apple and a number of other technology companies in a new lawsuit regarding a handful of computer networking patents issued in the 1990s.

Specifically, the lawsuit from U.S. Ethernet Innovations targets Apple's MacBook Pro, along with hardware from a number of other manufacturers. The complaint was filed in a U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas earlier this month.

According to the suit, 3Com Corporation was granted four patents from 1994 to 1998 pertaining to network adapters. Two deal with the automatic initiation of data transmission, and one addresses "host indication optimization."

It is only the fourth patent, entitled "Network Interface with Host Independent Buffer Management," of which Apple is alleged to be in violation. That patent, numbered 5,299,313, was issued in 1994 to 3Com.

"Without a license or permission from USEI, Apple infringed and continues to infringe one or more claims of the '313 Patent, directly, contributorily and/or by inducement, by importing, making, using, offering for sale, and/or selling products and devices which embody the patented invention, including, without limitation, one or more of the Apple Accused Products," the complaint reads.

Not made clear in the suit is the relationship between the patent owner, 3Com, and the complainant, U.S. Ethernet Innovations. While 3Com is a publicly traded company and well-known maker of routers, switches and other networking equipment, U.S. Ethernet Innovations is not as identifiable. The company's Web site states that U.S. Ethernet Innovations was founded "to continue 3Com Corporation's successful licensing program related to a portfolio of foundational patents in Ethernet technology."

A press release from the company states that it is the "owner of the fundamental Ethernet technology developed and sold by 3Com Corporation in the 1990s," suggesting it purchased the patents.

"We strongly believe that 3Coms Ethernet technologies are being regularly infringed by foreign and some US companies," said David A. Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Ethernet Innovations. "We believe that the continued aggressive enforcement of the fundamental Ethernet technologies developed by 3Com against the waves of cheap, knock-off, foreign manufactured equipment is a necessary step in protecting the competitiveness of this American technology and American companies in general."

In addition to Apple, the lawsuit names Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, Hewlett Packard, Sony and Toshiba as defendants. It asks for compensation for the alleged infringement, and requests a trial by jury.
post #2 of 68
It would be nice to look online and not see a lawsuit filed against Apple.
post #3 of 68
I would love to see a scorecard on this posted. We hear about all of the silly suites, like suing Apple for using white in their logo because I own the patient on white. Wondering if any of these suites stick.

Assuming that some must or these would just dry up.
post #4 of 68
At least Apple's legal department doesn't have to worry about a recession.
post #5 of 68
Cheap foreign-made ethernet knock-offs? I'm betting that pretty much ALL ethernet components are made overseas, and they work just fine. If a company wants to protect it's inventions, that's fine, but when they set up a division whose SOLE responsibility is to go on fishing expeditions to squeeze some settlement out of deep pockets based on a 30 year old technology, that's abusive.
post #6 of 68
I would bet that American corporations that have relocated their headquarters to a 3rd world country such as China do not have to worry too much about lawsuits. Only in America...........
post #7 of 68
Um... who uses Ethernet anymore?
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post #8 of 68
It's possible (only possible) that the patents are legitimate. I don't know--I don't have enough information and I'm assuming none of us here do yet. Certainly, frivolous suits are common, but legitimate claims do come up.
post #9 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

Um... who uses Ethernet anymore?

Are you serious?

Every BUSINESS uses Ethernet.
post #10 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by goodcow View Post

Are you serious?

Every BUSINESS uses Ethernet.

How many macs are in business? Outside of xserve I doubt many of today's macs even use the ethernet ports. I know that close to 100% of students on my campus use wifi, and even iMacs in computer labs are on the wifi connection.
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post #11 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

Um... who uses Ethernet anymore?

Cheap, secure, and fast.......who would?
post #12 of 68
Seems like whenever a company buys a sports arena they usually begin to decline in their core business. 3 com might soon be just a historical footnote and they are apparently trying to maximize the value of their remaining assets before being bought.

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post #13 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

Um... who uses Ethernet anymore?

With the alternatives being?!?!

Token Ring? Arcnet??
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post #14 of 68
This is probably a stupid question, but...:
If a company, unaware of a patent, develops its own process which emulates that patent, is that an infringement?

Or does an infringement mean that the process was plagiarized?
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post #15 of 68
Wait, so what the hell now? They're suing because of an ethernet patent from the fricken 90's?

What, did these people just climb out of a suspended animation chamber or something?
post #16 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by Olternaut View Post

What, did these people just climb out of a suspended animation chamber or something?

Yes, it's called Texas...
post #17 of 68
How much cheaper would consumer electronics be if we were to put an end to ridiculous patent infringement law suits, and subsequently shrank the need for multi-billion-dollar legal divisions of companies like Apple, Dell, and Microsoft?

Once we finish suing each other, the monetary gains are a wash, so let's keep the cost of our legal fees from seeping into our end-products so our customers can afford to buy more crap....

Or perhaps I'm just naive...

-Clive
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post #18 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

How many macs are in business? Outside of xserve I doubt many of today's macs even use the ethernet ports. I know that close to 100% of students on my campus use wifi, and even iMacs in computer labs are on the wifi connection.


Every single company with more than a couple computers has an internal network.
Ethernet.

Most newer houses (at least, in Seattle) come with network cabling installed.
Ethernet.

All of the companies I've worked at have had many, many macs on an internal network. (graphic design firms)
Ethernet.

How does your wireless router connect to your cable modem?
Ethernet.

How does my mac connect to my wireless router?
When I'm at my desk: Ethernet.


Back on topic:

It's always interesting to me when a company decides to defend its patent 20 years after the alleged infringement occurs.

My guess?

Because they realized they were being left out of the frivolous patent war so they dug up some poorly described ambiguous document and realized that given the stupidity of US patent judges, they could make a boatload of money suing people instead of running a legitimate business.
post #19 of 68
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Originally Posted by vinea View Post

yes, it's called texas...

bam!


...
post #20 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by cinder View Post

All of the companies I've worked at have had many, many macs on an internal network. (graphic design firms)

I forgot to comment on that point.... I can say for a fact that along with Education & Graphic / Design (oh and in the Movie industry) Apple also has a sizable audience with NASA, Medical Research / Molecular Biosciences and the more secure Government agencies.
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post #21 of 68
So, it took the patent holder 15 years to realize that computer, networking and peripheral makers are using Ethernet? What a crock!

Scavengers like this should be forced to pay the legal expense of the companies they sue when they lose!
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post #22 of 68
Wow and in eastern Texas, who'd have guessed that!
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post #23 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by LE Studios View Post

It would be nice to look online and not see a lawsuit filed against Apple.

On the contrary, I find these lawsuits by no-name companies against the big-dogs to be highly entertaining. I suppose I just admitted that I need a life.
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post #24 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Wow and in eastern Texas, who'd have guessed that!

I thought they still strung up horse thieves and cattle rustlers down there in Texas...
EXCEPT for them Bush varmints.
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post #25 of 68
I do not understand these lawsuits about infringing on some sort of IT copyright, especially when you read that most of them are patents from 10+ years ago. I can't believe it took this company that long to realize that there invention has been used without permission, if that really is the case.

What I also don't understand is how a single company owns patents to some sort of technology, in this case ethernet, and then comes out of the wood work to sue every PC manufacturer.

And by the sound of the article it seems like 3com owns the patents or the rights to the technology developed by Ethernet Innovations, but it is Ethernet Innovations that are suing to protect 3Com???
Quote:
"We strongly believe that 3Coms Ethernet technologies are being regularly infringed by foreign and some US companies,"
post #26 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

How many macs are in business? Outside of xserve I doubt many of today's macs even use the ethernet ports.

What are you smoking?
post #27 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

How many macs are in business? Outside of xserve I doubt many of today's macs even use the ethernet ports. I know that close to 100% of students on my campus use wifi, and even iMacs in computer labs are on the wifi connection.

Wow. You really need to get out more in corporate America before you make broad statements like this. Very few companies are set up internally for WAN or WIFI on their office structures or campuses. Most still use an Ethernet backbone for their networks.
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post #28 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by Futuristic View Post

On the contrary, I find these lawsuits by no-name companies against the big-dogs to be highly entertaining. I suppose I just admitted that I need a life.

You've never heard of 3Com?
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post #29 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

Um... who uses Ethernet anymore?

You do realize that Wifi still uses the Ethernet standards and same protocols, right? That's why it's called a Wireless Ethernet Standard.
post #30 of 68
US Ethernet Innovations is basically a law firm.

There's alot of these lawyers groups that troll for patent infringement on obscure & inconsequential tech and attempt to collect royalties.
post #31 of 68
There's not enough information given in this article to decide if it's just a patent troll case. 3Com was a real company that made real, consumer level stuff in the 90s. Campuses, at least... possibly businesses too, were full of their cards. This could be a legitimate patent on something that they once actually used.

Of course the choice of Texas for the suit is one mark against it being legitimate.
post #32 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sequitur View Post

This is probably a stupid question, but...:
If a company, unaware of a patent, develops its own process which emulates that patent, is that an infringement?

Or does an infringement mean that the process was plagiarized?

A patent really comes down to the claims. If another company uses the same design, as described in any one or more of the claims of the patent, without permission, then it is infringing. It does not matter if the design is "plagiarized" or developed independently. As the patent is a publicly available document, it would be incredibly hard to prove independence.

In fact, the primary purpose of the patent system is to spread and promote technology. In exchange for making the technology public, the inventor gets a period of exclusiveness. Once it expires, it is a free-for all.

If another company comes up with a design that achieves the same end goal, but does not actually use a technique described in the claims, then it is NOT infringing.

Looking at the claims here, this is not a patent on "Ethernet", but on very specific arrangements of separate buffer memories between the network interface and the host system.
post #33 of 68
I think post 29 summarises it neatly, coffin chasing lawyers.... truly pathetic..

Quote:
Originally Posted by nofear1az View Post

You do realize that Wifi still uses the Ethernet standards and same protocols, right? That's why it's called a Wireless Ethernet Standard.

Actually Ethernet does NOT use the same protocols as Wireless Ethernet, Wireless Ethernet was still in the Ether when the original Ethernet patents were approved.

Shared Ethernet use CSMA/CD 802.3 protocols and access control, switched Ethernet networks DON'T. Its probably fair to say practically nobody uses shared media networks based on 802.3 CSMA/CD.

Nevertheless, WiFi is probably closer to shared Ethernet than you would think, no matter which 802.11 standard you choose, it is still SHARED between all the stations, with increased latency and slower performance whereas switched, wired Ethernet has low latency and dedicated bandwidth. If you aren't sure, try backing up 80GB of iPhoto library over 802.11g, then repeat over Gigabit. 3days plays about 90 minutes......!
post #34 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

How many macs are in business? Outside of xserve I doubt many of today's macs even use the ethernet ports. I know that close to 100% of students on my campus use wifi, and even iMacs in computer labs are on the wifi connection.

I thought you were joking, but then I saw this. \
I wired my whole house with cat6 and Gigabit switches when I remodeled it. There is nothing better for gaming, and my TV. Wireless is fine if you just want to surf, but for NAS and such, nothing beats wired. Just because wireless is easy doesn't make it better in every situation.
post #35 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by Clive At Five View Post

How much cheaper would consumer electronics be if we were to put an end to ridiculous patent infringement law suits, and subsequently shrank the need for multi-billion-dollar legal divisions of companies like Apple, Dell, and Microsoft?

Once we finish suing each other, the monetary gains are a wash, so let's keep the cost of our legal fees from seeping into our end-products so our customers can afford to buy more crap....

Or perhaps I'm just naive...

-Clive

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Trail Lawyers are in the back pocket of the democrats, otherwise, a true health insurance, health reform, health care bill (whatever they are calling it today), won't be true reform until ALL facets of the problem of high costs are addressed and Obama is purposefully avoiding dealing with trial layers and their lawsuits. Why? Political baby, all political! He could give a crap less about you having health care more so, over the power that the government can wield once they have control over the health care industry.

With regards to the relation of this story in AI, outrageous lawsuits are just as common in the health care industry as they are in the technological patents concerning the "Computer / Electronics" industry.

I'll agree with you with respects to how much Macs and other computer and electronic makers products would be if they weren't paying for their high priced law teams fending off ridiculous lawsuits.

Just make "loser pays ALL costs", theirs and their opponents, and all over the place, there will be second thoughts with regards to filing that lawsuit without justifiable true cause! People won't take a chance if they might be out of pocket thousands of dollars as opposed to today where they can sue with no consequences other than not hitting payday!

They should chagne their company name because, "U.S. Ethernet Innovations" does not reflect their corporate business statement of "You Innovate, And Pay Us!"

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post #36 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

How many macs are in business? Outside of xserve I doubt many of today's macs even use the ethernet ports. I know that close to 100% of students on my campus use wifi, and even iMacs in computer labs are on the wifi connection.

First; putting iMacs on WiFi in a campus computer Lab is just stupid and ranklyf you ought to bring it up to the department heads. It is wrong on a number of counts. 1; it polutes the publicly available spectrum with communications that can be handled over wire. 2; it is slow.

Second I can under stand students using WiFi around the campus. In a sense that is what WiFi is for. Still in the dorms it would make sense to move to wired connections to gain the speed and reduce WiFi congestion.

Third; when traveling I always look for hotels that have the option of both WiFi and wired connections. I know some of tghe hotels in Vegas have incredilble fast wired connections. You just have to hook up. Of course not all hotels offer this level of service, but when traveling with a MBP you should always take advantage of the fact that you have one of the best Ethernet ports going.


Dave
post #37 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by vinea View Post

Yes, it's called Texas...

Quote:
Originally Posted by cinder View Post

bam!


...

iDon't get it. Get it?

Seriously, I don't get it. \
post #38 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rot'nApple View Post

Trail Lawyers are in the back pocket of the democrats, otherwise, a true health insurance, health reform, health care bill (whatever they are calling it today), won't be true reform until ALL facets of the problem of high costs are addressed and Obama is purposefully avoiding dealing with trial layers and their lawsuits. Why? Political baby, all political! He could give a crap less about you having health care more so, over the power that the government can wield once they have control over the health care industry.

I urge anyone who feels compelled to believe this nonsense to read this Atlantic article for a real look at an option for controlling health care costs.
post #39 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

How many macs are in business? Outside of xserve I doubt many of today's macs even use the ethernet ports. I know that close to 100% of students on my campus use wifi, and even iMacs in computer labs are on the wifi connection.

Let's see, I have about 15 at my company. A good friend has another 35 or so. All on ethernet. I also use ethernet at home (not for my iPhone or Apple TV), it's much faster and more secure. Of course my modem connects to my TC via ethernet.

I also tend to use it when I travel (every week). I plug my MBP into ethernet, then create a wifi network for my iPhone. Too many hotels have crappy wifi.

I'm hoping I can get some of that Light Peak 100Gbs action soon though!
post #40 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by sheff View Post

Um... who uses Ethernet anymore?

Who uses it is irrelevant. Even if nobody used it, the fact remains that Apple ships it on every Mac it sells.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nagromme View Post

It's possible (only possible) that the patents are legitimate. I don't know--I don't have enough information and I'm assuming none of us here do yet. Certainly, frivolous suits are common, but legitimate claims do come up.

Even if they are legit (and there is a good chance they are, relative to a lot of the crap patents we see here), if they have made no attempt to enforce their patent rights against known infringers, they may have lost the right to recover any damages. Of course, we don't know when Apple may have infringed on this particular patent. The patent isn't for Ethernet ports, it's for managing the data buffer. So even though Ethernet ports have been included on Macs for years, this particular buffer mangement technology may have only recently been implemented on Macs (ie, on motherboards made for Apple my Intel).

Quote:
Originally Posted by sequitur View Post

This is probably a stupid question, but...:
If a company, unaware of a patent, develops its own process which emulates that patent, is that an infringement?

Or does an infringement mean that the process was plagiarized?

It's still infringement. The only difference might be the damages for willfully infringing vs "accidentally" infringing.

Quote:
Originally Posted by red_skittles View Post

What I also don't understand is how a single company owns patents to some sort of technology, in this case ethernet, and then comes out of the wood work to sue every PC manufacturer.

It's simple really. Would you rather sue someone who's sold 1,000 infringing widgets; or wait until they've built up a market for 1,000,000 widget and then sue them? If you sue them early on, they may pay some small per-widget fine and then use a different technology and not license yours. But if you wait, you can get a percentage of those 1,000,000 widgets sold and not have to do any more work than you did to sue for 1,000 widgets.

Quote:
Originally Posted by trip1ex View Post

US Ethernet Innovations is basically a law firm.

There's alot of these lawyers groups that troll for patent infringement on obscure & inconsequential tech and attempt to collect royalties.

I assume they operate just like collections agencies. If you owe someone $50, it's probably not worth their time to try and collect from you. So they sell your debt for pennies on the dollar to a collection agency, who then assumes they can't collect a certain percentage of the debt they purchased.

So 3Com allows these guys to represent them for these patents lawsuits and in exchange they'll split whatever proceeds they can get from the suits.
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