1/03/2007

More Patent Parking Extortion - only now it's Universities!

A research foundation backed by the state of Washington has sued three of the world's biggest consumer electronics makers over claims that they have infringed a series of patents surrounding the Bluetooth short-range wireless technology.

The suit was filed in Federal court in Seattle and claims that Matsushita, Samsung and Nokia should have sought a license before using the technology in cellphones, headsets and other electronic equipment.

The Washington Research Foundation, which said it was acting on behalf of the University of Washington, owner of the patents in dispute, said it had already secured a license over the technology from Broadcom, one of the biggest makers of communications chips, that would cover any consumer electronics that employ Bluetooth chipsets made by Broadcom.

However, it said that the three companies had all sold devices based on chipsets made by British-based CSR, which had not been licensed. CSR slammed the legal suit as "without merit in relation to CSR's Bluetooth chips". By focusing on the US, WRF's action could potentially affect a fifth of the world's cell phones.

Meanwhile, the beleaguered IEEE 802.15.3a task group failed once again at its latest meeting to select one of two competing proposals for the ultrawideband physical layer for high-rate, short-range wireless connectivity ("UWB").

Amid accusations of deliberate stalling by one side and overstated time-to-market advantages by the other, the group is now considering extreme options ranging from splitting the task group into two to outright dissolution if some progress is not made by March.

What's really happening is that it's all about the patents. Nobody wants to give up on the version of the standard that might include some bit of their own patented technology, no matter how broad and obvious, because it's just so lucrative.

The end result is that it slows down or kills various useful standards that would help move industries forward. Once again, this flies in the face of the purpose of the patent system - a system that has gone terribly wrong.

In other news, they've found evidence of liquid methane on Saturn. But don't get too excited. Some outfit probably already has a patent on it, and they are ready to sue at the drop of a hat.