The recent ruling by Judge James F. Holderman is sure to upset many privacy advocates who use Wi-Fi regularly. His decision supports the Federal law which makes an exception when it comes to communications "made through an electronic communication system that is configured so that such electronic communication is readily accessible to the general public."
It is illegal to intercept electronic communications, but if it’s part of a public Wi-Fi system, it’s fair game.
The ruling is part of a patent infringement case regarding Wi-Fi filed by Innovatio against anyone using the patented technology. The technologies in question are used by anyone who uses Wi-Fi in public or privacy of their own home.
Innovatio is pursuing hundreds of businesses at time because of this violation. Most Wi-Fi users are unaware they are in violation of any patent infringement and businesses have been settling out of court instead of going through protracted legal nightmares.
Unlike most patent disputes requesting a six- or seven-figure settlement, Innovatio is only asking between $2,300 and $5,000 for a one-time lump sum licensing payment. The amount might seem trivial, but considering the number of businesses using Wi-Fi, it can quickly surpass even the steepest recorded settlements.
The issue of packet sniffing came up because Innovatio was accessing evidence for its case against the businesses using the technology. Packet sniffing technology has legitimate use for analyzing network problems, detecting hacking or intrusion attempts and monitoring usage. This same technology can also be used to intercept traffic over a network by capturing each packet without permission.
Once the packet is captured, the content can be accessed.
The acquisition of patents and who owns them is a wild playing field with very little regulation when it comes to the ownership of these documents. Patents can be bought and sold like any other commodity, and when it lands in the hands of an unscrupulous entity it will start exercising the rights of its ownership by going after those who use the technology without consent.
Many scientist, researchers and inventors create technology with an altruistic agenda so their invention can benefit mankind. If they fall on hard times, they pass away or the company they work for files bankruptcy the patents for their invention can end up in the hands of entities they did not intend.
Innovatio holds 31 patents and asserts its rights on 17 of them. The patents for the inventions were originally in part or solely owned by Robert Meier and Ronald Mahany – developers who worked for a company which was acquired by another corporation.
The patents changed ownership several times and eventually landed with Innovatio.
Patent transfers take place all the time and with very little regulation the wishes of the inventors are almost never considered. This leaves every business and person susceptible to lawsuits liable for large sums of money.
Want to learn more about patents in the telecom industry? Then be sure to attend Synopsis Under IP/Patents Telecom Sourcing Conference (SUITS), collocated with ITEXPO West 2012 taking place Oct. 2-5, in Austin, TX. Stay in touch with everything happening at SUITS. Follow us on Twitter.
Edited by Braden Becker