Technology stars sued over Wi-Fi technology

A patent licensing company has filed a patent infringement suit against some of technology's biggest names in a notoriously patent holder-friendly US court. The suit names Dell, Apple, Sony and Intel, amongst others.

Canadian firm Wi-LAN has filed the suit in the Eastern District of Texas, a court often used by patent-enforcing litigants.

The company claims that 22 companies, including chip makers, equipment manufacturers and retailers, are infringing three patents it holds. Two relate to Wi-Fi wireless internet access and one to power consumption in DSL broadband products.

Wi-LAN claims that some routers, modems and laptop computers infringe its patents.

The company said that it had already cut deals with some companies for licences for the patents. "Wi-LAN has successfully negotiated patent licensing deals with a number of companies covering a broad range of patent families and technologies," said company chief executive Jim Skippen in a statement.

"While we prefer to resolve patent infringement through business discussions, we have consistently maintained that litigation was always a possibility when negotiations do not result in a licence within a reasonable time," he said.

Wi-LAN said that despite the legal action it was still in discussion with some of the named companies about licensing the technology to them. "I expect these discussions to continue and that some parties will feel more inclined to take licenses quickly," said Skippen in a conference call with journalists.

The company is seeking an injunction preventing the companies from continuing the activity which it claims constitutes patent infringement, as well as damages.

"Wi-LAN has no adequate remedy at law against Defenders' acts of infringement and, unless Defenders are enjoined from their infringements of the Patents-In-Suit, Wi-LAN will suffer irreparable harm," said the company's lawsuit.

The Supreme Court in the US has heard a number of patent related cases recently, and is widely seen as clamping down on actions taken by firms which are not operating companies but merely patent holders.

One Supreme Court judgment recently in a case involving Genetech made it easier for companies to take pre-emptive action against patent holders which at least allows them to choose the court the case would be heard in.

Wi-LAN has chosen the Eastern District of Texas for its action, but one US patent law expert recently told OUT-LAW.COM that the reputation of that court as the ideal forum for patent holders was changing.

Dennis Crouch is Associate Professor of Law at Missouri University and author of the Patently-O blog. "The Eastern District of Texas has seen a flood of patent litigation in recent years based on its reputation as a patent friendly court," he said. "However, that reputation is shifting as the court invalidates more patents."