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Canadian firm's patent suit targets Apple's use of Wi-Fi

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 
Ottawa, Canada-based telecoms licenser Wi-LAN has filed a complaint in the US which charges Apple, other top-tier electronics makers, and even large retail chains with infringing on patents that it claims form the basis of Wi-Fi networking.

Submitted to court earlier this week in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas -- a region historically friendly to patent owners -- the lawsuit accuses 14 distinct companies and their sub-divisions of violating patents from 1994 and 2002 which cover the use of multiplexing to exchange data between transceivers, piecing together multiple transmissions to form a single stream of information.

Wi-Fi regularly uses this technology to transfer information across a wireless network, according to the complaint.

By creating, selling, or simply using Wi-Fi chipsets that allegedly use the technology, the targeted companies are treading on the patent, Wi-LAN's representing firm McKool Smith said. Companies named in the suit range from those designing the chipsets, such as Broadcom and Intel, to those that carry the end products in their stores, such as Best Buy and Circuit City.

Apple is named in the complaint as its Macs and handhelds use one or more wireless chipsets from those original manufacturers, but is not alone in its category: several major computer builders including Dell, HP, and Toshiba are also named as guilty of infringement by assembling computers using the reportedly offending technology. All the companies knew of the patents but chose to develop or sell the hardware regardless, the plaintiff claims.

The lawsuit not only demands a jury trial and damages in the event of a Wi-LAN victory, but also asks for a permanent injunction barring the defendants from any activity that would violate the patent. Effectively, it seeks to bar the production or sale of many Wi-Fi-capable devices.

Reflecting its typical company policy regarding lawsuits, Apple has so far chosen not to comment on the new filing.
post #2 of 29
Well, good luck with that. I hope they get crushed.
post #3 of 29
There's gonna come a tipping point, I think sooner rather than later, when these outrageous patent lawsuits are going to come to an end.

Tort reform is so overdue in the US.
post #4 of 29
this is as ridiculous as someone trying to sue companies for selling blank CD's. has this company just envisaged the beautifully large licence fees it may receive and not actually considered how silly it is with how widespread Wi-Fi is nowadays
post #5 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Effectively, it seeks to bar the production or sale of many Wi-Fi-capable devices.

Well, what they really seek is a settlement that includes a licensing fee.
post #6 of 29
I'm sure any judge has a Wi-Fi device of their own and sees the ridiculousness of this complaint. It just sounds like a ridiculous lawsuit to me. What are we going to do?? Have to chuck all of our Wi-Fi products and go back to hardwired systems? I don't think so.....
post #7 of 29
These patent troll companies need to be crushed immediately.

They are a tumor on the technology industry. They produce absolutely nothing at all and do nothing but harass companies who do.

I really hope patent reform happens soon. These lawsuits end up costing everyone more money in the end; defending them costs money and companies like Apple end up passing the costs to us.

Only the lawyers benefit.
post #8 of 29
This is boring. Back in 2005 Wi-LAN had already settled a case like this one with Cisco. Apparently for Wi-LAN patents are products. They probably have a case here though, and what will most likely happen is that each of the infringers will give them a one-off paycheck to keep them quiet. Why should I really care if any of these companies have to give away a marginal fraction of their capital to Wi-LAN? Oh, that's right, I don't care. Patents are a necessary pain, but they need to be reformed badly.
post #9 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by camimac View Post

Why should I really care if any of these companies have to give away a marginal fraction of their capital to Wi-LAN? Oh, that's right, I don't care.

You should care. This money doesn't come out of the manufacturer's capital, they slap it on the purchase price of the devices!
post #10 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by zorinlynx View Post

These patent troll companies need to be crushed immediately.

They are a tumor on the technology industry. They produce absolutely nothing at all and do nothing but harass companies who do.

I really hope patent reform happens soon. These lawsuits end up costing everyone more money in the end; defending them costs money and companies like Apple end up passing the costs to us.

Only the lawyers benefit.

Not all these companies are a tumour to the industry, just those that are getting too many patents for silly things. Quite often is the case that small companies identify a new and important method for achieving a specific result. This needs to be encouraged which is what patents are meant to do. However, having a patent for a multiplexing system given in 1994, when multiplexing itself is much older is ridiculous.
post #11 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by hdasmith View Post

However, having a patent for a multiplexing system given in 1994, when multiplexing itself is much older is ridiculous.

One can't have a patent on multiplexing itself, but one can probably patent a novel and new means of implementing multiplexing.
post #12 of 29
There was a piece about this on the national news here in Canada yesterday. Analyst was speculating that this case is much different than other patent trollers in that they probably do have a legitimate case. Apparently, they really did patent the exact specific way that wi-fi is being used these days, before anyone was doing so. Said there was very little chance of these guys NOT winning at least a licensing fee judgement. Also mentioned that it's probably not the manufacturers of the computers that will be on the hook, rather it will probably be the makers of the wi-fi chips that go in them.
post #13 of 29
What took them so long? My wi-fi system was bought in 2000. Plus, aren't 802.11b/g/n/a/q/x/z all "standards"?

Are Canadians slow?
post #14 of 29
Yeah, seriously. To wait until after the market is flooded with 'infringing' goods seems disingenuous.
post #15 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eriamjh View Post

What took them so long? My wi-fi system was bought in 2000. Plus, aren't 802.11b/g/n/a/q/x/z all "standards"?

Are Canadians slow?

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post #16 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fotek2001 View Post

You should care. This money doesn't come out of the manufacturer's capital, they slap it on the purchase price of the devices!

It doesn't, because the companies will never agree to pay royalties for each wireless device. Moreover, suing retailers that sell such products is on the verge of the ridiculous, since that would mean that we would be paying royalties twice for the same product. Again, if anything comes out from this it will be in the form of a one-time compensation.
post #17 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by drblank View Post

I'm sure any judge has a Wi-Fi device of their own and sees the ridiculousness of this complaint.

Plus, would not said judge, if he/her or any family member having a wi-fi device have to recuse him or herself from the case to avoid any look of impropriety?

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post #18 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rich-Myster View Post

<--- ...

That's why I winked. I know better than say something about Canadians on teh intarweb.

And I live in Detroit, so we are familiar with your casinos (in Windsor).

And now your dollar is kicking our dollar's ass! ( $1 CAD = $1.06 US)
post #19 of 29
As far as I'm concerned, patents should be treated like trademarks. With a trademark, if you don't use it, you lose it. The patent system needs to be overhauled to require that a product incorporating the invention be produced -- and within a reasonable amount of time -- or else the patent becomes void.
post #20 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheBum View Post

As far as I'm concerned, patents should be treated like trademarks. With a trademark, if you don't use it, you lose it. The patent system needs to be overhauled to require that a product incorporating the invention be produced -- and within a reasonable amount of time -- or else the patent becomes void.

So you're saying that if some poor bastard with no money is really bright and invents something, but cannot produce it, they are to lose out--paving the way for gigantic companies to swoop in after expiration of said patent and produce it, without paying the original brain behind it? That sucks.
post #21 of 29
TheBum may not being saying this, but I do. I feel that a patent holder must make an reasonable effort to exploit the monopoly privilege that he has been granted. Secretly waiting in wait for someone else to rediscover and exploit your idea should be grounds for losing your patent. The nitpicking and lawyering is what is a reasonable effort to exploit. -- Not to say that the Canadian company involved here didn't make an effort to exploit, I do not know. But they sound more likely to be a legitimate company in need of patent protection than your typical patent troll. But again, how did a patent get stuck in an IEEE spec?

I also feel this way about copyrights. If a copyright holder is not making an effort to make copies available, or is actively using the copyright to suppress the work , the copyright holder should face the risk of losing the copyright.
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post #22 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by aresee View Post

TheBum may not being saying this, but I do. I feel that a patent holder must make an reasonable effort to exploit the monopoly privilege that he has been granted. Secretly waiting in wait for someone else to rediscover and exploit your idea should be grounds for losing your patent. The nitpicking and lawyering is what is a reasonable effort to exploit. -- Not to say that the Canadian company involved here didn't make an effort to exploit, I do not know. But they sound more likely to be a legitimate company in need of patent protection than your typical patent troll. But again, how did a patent get stuck in an IEEE spec?

I also feel this way about copyrights. If a copyright holder is not making an effort to make copies available, or is actively using the copyright to suppress the work , the copyright holder should face the risk of losing the copyright.

A lot of patents end up in this or that kind of standards - think CD, GIF, MP3, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DVD, HD-DVD or Blueray etc.

Big companies like Sony etc could establish some standard licensing body (for example, mpeg licensing) to charge everyone some crazy fee. Small companies cannot afford that, so their patents end up in standards without any way to collect, except lawsuits.

If the patent has merit, then they should collect. It is amazing people just jump on "patent trolls" attack without even knowing anything about the patents.

By the way, some people asked what took them so long? Well, the lawsuits covers patents from 94 to 05....and if the patent was issued in 05, it was probably filed in 2000 (yes, that's how long it takes to get it approved these days). So, everything sort of make sense - Wifi 802.11b (the first popular Wifi standard) was released end of 1999.

So, it is quite possible their patents are valid and they have a case.

What I don't agree with is that they are suing PC manufacturers who buy chips from OEM's. That is just crazy. Where does it end? Should they be allowed to sue the end users too? Patent lawsuits should be limited to immediate infringer - the Wifi chipset manufacturers in this case.
post #23 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by technohermit View Post

So you're saying that if some poor bastard with no money is really bright and invents something, but cannot produce it, they are to lose out--paving the way for gigantic companies to swoop in after expiration of said patent and produce it, without paying the original brain behind it? That sucks.

Usually it's not that hard to make and market a niche product that implements the idea. You don't have to sell millions of units to have a real product.

I don't think there is an easy solution to the patent mess, but I have to question the timeliness of these lawsuits when WiFi has been widely available for many years.
post #24 of 29
Yay for dull lawsuits.

/meh
post #25 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by technohermit View Post

So you're saying that if some poor bastard with no money is really bright and invents something, but cannot produce it, they are to lose out--paving the way for gigantic companies to swoop in after expiration of said patent and produce it, without paying the original brain behind it? That sucks.

If they can't finance the implementation themselves, they could sell the technology to a company that can. This is how brains get paid. Inventors don't necessarily take an idea to market, they sell the idea to someone that can take it to market.

As aresee says, you shouldn't just be able to lie in wait, hoping that someday someone will come up with the same method for achieving the same goals, and pop up to sue said company.
post #26 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

Usually it's not that hard to make and market a niche product that implements the idea. You don't have to sell millions of units to have a real product.

I don't think there is an easy solution to the patent mess, but I have to question the timeliness of these lawsuits when WiFi has been widely available for many years.

Really? How many products have you brought to market?

Sure, if you invented a new coffee cup, it may not cost that much (a second mortgage on your house will do). But a chipset? Why don't you try that?
post #27 of 29
I'm gonna patent "white" and sue Apple for using it on their past product line. I waited a few years for it to be a success so I could be sure and get a good settlement.
post #28 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by drblank View Post

I'm sure any judge has a Wi-Fi device of their own and sees the ridiculousness of this complaint. It just sounds like a ridiculous lawsuit to me. What are we going to do?? Have to chuck all of our Wi-Fi products and go back to hardwired systems? I don't think so.....

Last year I worked on a case involving AOL, they were being sued for streaming internet
radio, and yes the case was in Texas. The judge in the case had never done a Patent case, he was only familiar with immigration cases, same goes for the jury. Before the case even started, the judge ordered both sides to make a video tutorial on what the internet was and how it worked.

If this Canadian company really had a case, then it should have it tried in Silicon Valley with
a jury of true peers.
post #29 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by johnqh View Post

A lot of patents end up in this or that kind of standards - think CD, GIF, MP3, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, DVD, HD-DVD or Blueray etc.

Yes, I can see how patents can get caught up in these standards/specifications. But 802.11 is a IEEE standard, and I thought that IEEE standards were free of patent encumbrances. Isn't this the latest hold up on 802.11n, one of the patent holder didn't agree to releasing their patent to the spec and IEEE won't release 802.11n unless it is free of patent encumbrances?
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