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Legal Technology: WiLAN Hits the Courts

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December 11, 2012

WiLAN Hits the Courts

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

It must already be pretty cold in Canada, even during the day. Otherwise how does one explain the flurry of activities surrounding Ottawa-based WiLAN, which bills itself as a “leading technology innovation and licensing company.” Licensing certainly, but innovation may be a bit of a stretch unless one considers how the company has staked out a formidable position in the business of amassing other people’s intellectual property and then through licensing and legal action monetizing it.

Some might call them opportunistic, while others might label them “IP trolls,” but the truth is the company has acquired over 3,000 issued or pending patents and is a force in the tech industry, wireless in particular, like them or not.

As we head into the end of the year, it seemed like a good time to look at one of the significant licensing companies to see where they are exerting themselves. Others like to look at where angel investors and private equity guys are placing their bets, but I also like to keep tags on some of the licensing companies because they tend to be good indicators of what are likely to be hot markets.

This past few days saw WiLAN activity on three fronts.

First was Wi-LAN ‘s five separate litigations claiming patent infringement against Apple, HTC, and Sierra Wireless (News - Alert) America.

Three of the suits, filed in the Southern District of Florida against Apple, HTC and Sierra Wireless, claim infringement of WiLAN's U.S. Patent Nos. 8,315,640 and 8,311,040 related to LTE (News - Alert) technologies. These are not trivial. Patent No. 8,315,640 deals with “A method and apparatus for requesting and allocating bandwidth in a broadband wireless communication system. The inventive method and apparatus includes a combination of techniques that allow a plurality of CPEs to communicate their bandwidth request messages to respective base stations.”

And, No. 8,311,040 which deals with packing source data packets into transporting packets with fragmentation is about, “A communication system and method are disclosed for transmitting packets of information in at least one first format over a communications link that utilizes packets of information in a second format.” It may sound complicated, but it is important.

The other two suits, filed in the Eastern District of Texas against Apple (News - Alert) and Sierra Wireless, claim infringement of WiLAN's U.S. Patent No. 6,381,211 (the "211 patent") related to 3G HSPA handset products. HTC (News - Alert) is a defendant in an ongoing litigation initiated by WiLAN in 2010 that claims infringement of the 211 patent. Given the current importance of 3G HSPA, this one may be a bit retrospective, but 3G is going to be around for sometime as will all of those handsets.

Second was the announcement of an action also filed in the Southern District of Florida against RIM. This one could put a crimp in RIMs attempt to revitalize itself. The alleged infringement in this instance is U.S. Patent No. 6,260,168, which while related to paging systems actually has to do with the use of Bluetooth technology. While probably more annoyance and inconvenience than a deal breaker, this was not the kind of thing RIM needs at this moment in time.

 It must also be noted that WiLAN does not always prevail in its attempts to get compensation for its IP. In fact, a lawsuit filed on January 2010, WiLAN sued LG Electronics (News - Alert), Inc. and LG Electronics U.S.A., Inc. for infringement of WiLAN's U.S. Patent No. 5,828,402 in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York on a matter involving “Method and apparatus for selectively blocking audio and video signals.”  On March 7, 2012, the courts found no evidence of infringement and this decision has been upheld on further appeals.

So there you have it if you are trying to read the tea leaves; wireless transmissions and the blocking of certain TV signals are targets of opportunity. If nothing else, you have to admire Wi-LAN’s fearlessness in taking on some very large companies, and also its ability to put its fingers on markets which have, had or will have significant revenues.  The bandwidth allocation ones in particular are ones to keep an eye on whether you are a vendor in the space or just an industry observer.

It will be interesting to see how WI-LAN celebrates the New Year.

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Edited by Allison Boccamazzo



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