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Apple, Others Hit With Lawsuit On Ethernet Patents 304

Posted by kdawson
from the innovation-prevention dept.
bth nods an AppleInsider story on a patent troll who has gotten hold of fundamental Ethernet patents and is wielding them broadly. Three guesses which US Appeals Court the lawsuit was filed in. "A Texas company has targeted a number of technology companies, including Apple, in a new lawsuit regarding a handful of computer networking patents issued in the 1990s. ... 3Com Corporation was granted four patents from 1994 to 1998 pertaining to network adapters. Two deal with the automatic initiation of data transmission, and one addresses 'host indication optimization.' ... The company's Web site states that U.S. Ethernet Innovations was founded 'to continue 3Com Corporation's successful licensing program related to a portfolio of foundational patents in Ethernet technology.' A press release from the company states that it is the 'owner of the fundamental Ethernet technology developed and sold by 3Com Corporation in the 1990s,' suggesting it purchased the patents. ... In addition to Apple, the lawsuit names Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, Hewlett Packard, Sony, and Toshiba as defendants."
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Apple, Others Hit With Lawsuit On Ethernet Patents

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  • Trial by jury... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meerling (1487879) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:27AM (#29804573)
    Seems to me that asking for a trial by jury may very well backfire on them.
  • by LaZZaR (216092) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:57AM (#29804691)

    Humour. Try it.

  • There goes 3com (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LostMyBeaver (1226054) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:07AM (#29804763)
    I seems to me that by waiting until this late in the game, to the point which nearly the entire world's Internet and telecommunications infrastructure is based on Ethernet in on incarnation or another is just plain sleezy.

    The fact that 3Com, once a reputable company of top notch networking technology appears to be trying make money by exercising their patent pool through a 3rd party to raise much needed money. This is sad.

    There was a point when the 3Com 3c509 and 3c905 ethernet adapters dominated the Ethernet world. In fact, while their cards were more expensive and more complex than nearly any other on the market, they were likely to be found in nearly every PC that was built of quality parts (meaning machines that chose ASUS motherboards over some fly by night).

    The integration of Ethernet logic within chipsets pretty much destroyed the 3Com business model, after all, 3Com made more off the adapters than anything else. Today however nearly every high end motherboard I encounter implements a Marvell Ethernet PHY. Intel is selling tons of Ethernet PHY's to embedded vendors that implement their designs on FPGAs (meaning most high end rack based devices). 3Com is nowhere to be seen.

    I have been patiently waiting for 3Com to come back and start taking the high end workstation and the server market seriously. I've been waiting for them to make great products again. Instead, they keep shoveling out lower and lower interest items. The trust the world once associated with their quality is decreasing so rapidly, soon people will see them as no better than Linksys or D-Link.

    If I were 3Com, I'd seriously consider taking a project like Vyatta or the likes, start developing it into a high end system capable of managing switching (Layer-2 to Layer-4) and then build every product starting with their cheapest routers based on it. I'd start producing new silicon with high end features like TCP and UDP offloading and trying to get into the mass market PHY business. Most importantly, I'd start selling trust.

    The problem is, by exercising these patents which people knew about but trusted 3Com to never exercise since it would just force all the other vendors on the market to lash back at them with their huge patent pools, they're destroying the last remaining bit of trust which was for a long time the only the 3Com had left.

    Rest In Peace 3Com, it's unfortunate that everything I ever loved about you is gone. Another great innovator has died. Now you can sleep eternally in a grave dug next to SCOs
  • Re:pre-builts? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cjfs (1253208) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:08AM (#29804781) Homepage Journal

    Legitimacy of the patents aside, I wonder why an Ethernet technology suit would be leveled against companies that do little more than assemble circuit boards.

    Because those companies have money and make some indirect use of the technology. They'd probably sue Coke if they could find a networked vending machine.

  • by Korgan (101803) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:18AM (#29804817) Homepage

    This is a little surprising to me. Why would they go after the end user companies that produce computers rather than the much bigger fish that rely on this technology for their core bread and butter?

    Cisco, Foundry, Juniper, F5 and so on all make a lot more sense to go after given that they're less likely to want to risk the chance of losing and more likely to settle the issue out of court.

    Companies like Dell, Apple, Acer, HP and the beige box boys can simply just ignore the patent and say "Talk to Intel/nVidia/chipset vendor X" or simply not include onboard NIC machines and switch to using PCI/USB cards instead.

    Theres not a lot of hope for this suit even at the best of circumstances, but the companies its going after are potentially shielded by the fact they themselves are not likely to produce the chips that handle Ethernet. Merely include chips from someone else (such as Intel) in their products.

    Or am I completely missing something?

  • brilliant patent! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jipn4 (1367823) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:36AM (#29804897)

    <sarcasm>It patents the idea of putting a memory buffer on the network card. Who would have thought of that?</sarcasm>

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:38AM (#29804903)
    "...blaming the patent troll is a bit stupid. They are an inevitable part of a system which tries to treat ideas like property..."

    Is that a bit of "Don't blame the player, blame the game." dodge?
    I don't buy that shit. If you're a douchebag, you're a douchebag even if you're in a pack of douchebags.
    To reiterate, just because the system can be abused, doesn't mean you should accept that abuse blindly, it's still wrong.

    Well, that's my 3 cents worth. Enjoy the flames. :-)
  • by HannethCom (585323) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @04:01AM (#29804985)
    I'm starting to think that one of the biggest problems with patents is being able to sell them and hold them with out making products based on them. Well, the US patent system has a lot more problems like obvious things being patented and being able to patent business processes.

    But apart from the US,some of the biggest problems come up in companies buying patents and being patent trolls. Patents were supposed to protect the inventor, selling the patent isn't protecting the inventor anymore. Also unless a company merges with another company I think all patents that the company owns should dissolve with the company and be unpatentable.

    If you have a patent, I think you should be required to have products out using that patent, or at least working on making products with that patent. Too many companies patent something that they heard someone else speak about, they have no plans to use the patent, just profit off of someone else's work by beating them to the patent office, or just plain having the money to buy the patent where the person doesn't. I guess that still wouldn't quite solve the problem. There would need to be some process where you proved that you created the idea.

    *start rant* Now as for the US Patent system, there is an official report that calls it too much of a joke for us to merge our patent system with their's. Our company started looking at US Patents and as far as we can tell, you can't write a line of code with out violating a patent. It is so silly that "If...else" is patented. "ifelse" is patented. "Begin...End" is patented. I think you can get away with "{...}" blocks, but not much else.
  • by Tim C (15259) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @04:53AM (#29805205)

    Mod this guy up - "Don't blame me, everyone is doing it!" (or worse, "hey, no-one tried to stop me!") is no kind of defence for anyone with a shred of moral responsibility.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @05:02AM (#29805233)

    Is that a bit of "Don't blame the player, blame the game." dodge?
    I don't buy that shit.

    I do buy it, and I'm against all copyright and patent protection. You can't have one set of laws in the books and another one in people's minds. Wherever practical, the written law should reflect the moral ideals and common decisions. You may have ideals of your own, but you can't blame anybody else for obeying the law.

    We are currently in a dangerous in-between state where companies and individuals break the law daily mostly out of ignorance. That situation is extremely detrimental to a civilized society. The faster the patent trolls bankrupt big companies and the more avidly the copyright organizations persecute ordinary citizens, the faster this idiocy is removed from the law.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdot@@@hackish...org> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @05:18AM (#29805307)

    That's just another way of saying that the free market fails to produce some things we'd like, so the government needs to do intervene to ensure that they happen. Whether it's something like instituting a patent system to produce artificial scarcity, directly fund research via the National Science Foundation, or some other method, there are pros and cons to all the interventions. But regardless of the pros and cons, one thing they aren't is laissez-faire.

  • Swine flew? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KlaymenDK (713149) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @05:38AM (#29805409) Journal

    But, I hear there's a lot of that going 'round at the moment...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @06:46AM (#29805681)

    I'm sorry, but i think you misunderstand.
    Nothing will get fixed if we blame the douchebags only.
    The game needs to change, that is the true message.
    What you are proposing is to just put a bandage on the wound and hope the problem will go away.
    It would be much better to prevent the wound to ever have happenend in the first place.

  • by mcrbids (148650) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @07:19AM (#29805837) Journal

    I don't buy that shit. If you're a douchebag, you're a douchebag even if you're in a pack of douchebags.

    Unless the rules of the game are such that you have to be a douchebag in order to eat. And while that's not exactly the case, it IS a way to eat. Therefore, some people will do it. Take away the incentive, and the behaviour will all but disappear.

  • by c6gunner (950153) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @07:23AM (#29805857)

    No, but trying to be an honest company among a bunch of poopyhead competitors that aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and play dirty isn't all that easy.

    Welcome to Earth! Did you have a nice trip? I'd like to introduce you to the predominant species: a partly-evolved tribe of primates who call themselves "Humans". Slimy lot of bastards they are. Stab their own mothers in the back given the chance, and some incentive.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:00AM (#29806067)

    "...blaming the patent troll is a bit stupid. They are an inevitable part of a system which tries to treat ideas like property..."

    Is that a bit of "Don't blame the player, blame the game." dodge?
    I don't buy that shit. If you're a douchebag, you're a douchebag even if you're in a pack of douchebags.
    To reiterate, just because the system can be abused, doesn't mean you should accept that abuse blindly, it's still wrong.

    Well, that's my 3 cents worth. Enjoy the flames. :-)

    Everyone has this attitude in this country. That's part of the problem. We choose to blame individuals and corporations for things like this when we should be enacting laws to stop it. If intellectual property were redefined so that things like this couldn't be actionable, the suit wouldn't exist. This attitude reminds me of people that blame Walmart because it doesn't provide health care to its employees and it buys from sweatshops or whatever. Sure, if Walmart wanted out of the good of its corporate heart it could take it upon itself to be a kinder, gentler profit seeking entity, or we can stop pretending that corporations and people in business have to follow some set of "unwritten rules" and actually write down those rules so that they are forced to follow them.

  • Go south (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Amanitin (1603983) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:33AM (#29806291)

    A fine kick off for the patent reform would be to shut down that Texas district court. I was going to say 'revolution' and 'burn down' but those words are too big for me.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:41AM (#29806347)

    And while that's not exactly the case, it IS a way to eat. Therefore, some people will do it.

    So robbing a bank is OK because it's one of the available ways to get money out of it?

  • by Animaether (411575) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:56AM (#29806503) Journal

    Is that little rule - I before E except after C - still actually being taught?

    Besides 'weird', here's a collection of other words that do not fit that rule:
    e-ism (atheism), e-ing (being), e-ish (blueish), etc.
    interrupted: albeit
    sounds like 'A': airfreight, aweigh, beige, bobsleigh, heinous (heehee, he said heinous), heir
    sounds like 'I': abseil, feisty
    silent: forfeit

    Even if you take the modified form of "I Before E except after C when it sounds like 'E'"...
    caffeine, casein, codeine

    Even if you modify it further "I before E except after C when it sounds like 'E' and isn't some chemical compound"...
    Ashleigh, Keith, O'Neill (two "L"s, the one with a sense of humor)

    So let's make it "I before E except after C when it sounds like 'E' and isn't a name like that of a person, object, or substance.."
    ceiling, conceit, conceive, deceit, deceive, obeisance

    I haven't even paged through my dictionary file beyond the letter 'O' yet and already I think you can tell that the "I before E" rule is an abomination. Not in the least due to all of the exceptions made above where you'd have to come up with new rules, or just teach the kids the correct spelling of the word 'as is'. I sure hope "I before E" is not still being taught.

    Oh hell, I just noticed there's a Wikipedia topic for it - of course there is. *mutter* - and at least the Brits clued up; "In June 2009, the British government advised primary school teachers to stop teaching the rule."
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_before_E_except_after_C [wikipedia.org]

  • by BlueParrot (965239) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:56AM (#29807291)

    I'm starting to think that one of the biggest problems with patents is being able to sell them and hold them with out making products based on them.

    Naaa, the biggest problems are pretty much the following:

    1)There are no effective checks to stop people patenting obvious things or things that are not patentable. Combined with a complete lack of penalties (at least in practice ) for abusing the system and the expense involved with defending yourself against a lawsuit this allows patent trolls to cause a great deal of harm to companies and individuals who have done nothing wrong.

    2)There is in practice a complete lack of punishment for deliberately filing invalid patents and patent claims.

    3)Patent law is to a very large extent not based on any form of independent analysis of its consequences but rather the work of lobbying by special interest groups. In otehr words, patent law is designed to be profitable, not just.

    4)Because patent law allows very vague and broad interpretations of patent claims, and because you can be found to be infringing even if you had never heard of a plaintiff's patent, it is in practice impossible to market ANY product without infringing on SOME patent.

    5)Because large plaintiffs can essentially force smaller companies to settle by simply dragging a case along, the outcome of a lawsuit is often determined not by who is in the right, but who has the most money to spend on legal battles ( this is a more general problem with the US legal system ).

    Or simply put: Due to intense lobbying by patent holders and existing monopolies the system is more or less designed to allow plaintiffs to abuse the system for purposes different from the original motivation of promoting arts and sciences. There is little justice or balance in the system and patent lawsuits mostly boil down to who has the deepest pockets rather than who is in the right.

  • by steveo777 (183629) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:16AM (#29807569) Homepage Journal

    I don't think this is much of a troll. The legal system can, and periodically is, turned into a popularity contest. There is a very real likelihood that the jurors will act on personal feelings about the company, and/or be swayed because of lawyer speak.

    However, it is also possible that the jurors will be fair and impartial. But from what we now know about that district, there really isn't any hope.

  • by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot.kadin@x[ ].net ['oxy' in gap]> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:29AM (#29808775) Homepage Journal

    Companies don't have moral responsibility. I'd argue that they are, in fact, in large part a vehicle for abdicating individual moral responsibility, in addition to their uses as liability shields.

    Given that companies exist, and given that there are enough people with a relaxed enough set of morals to use them in whatever way is legally permissible, it's a waste of time to argue against their actions on moral grounds. It may feel good, but it's not going anywhere. Intellectual wankery at its best.

    If we don't want companies to do something, we should make it illegal and enforce sanctions against it. If it's legal, someone is going to do it regardless of how morally questionable it may be. Acting surprised when that happens is idiotic.

    Companies flow towards profitability the same way water flows downhill. If we don't like the direction they're headed in, we have a responsibility and duty as a society to rejigger things so that the actions that are desirable are also profitable, and the undesirable actions are not profitable (i.e. they result in fines).

Put no trust in cryptic comments.

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