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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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  • pre-builts? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Penguinoflight (517245) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:49AM (#29804663) 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.
  • Re:Trial by jury... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rtfa-troll (1340807) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:06AM (#29804741)

    Seems to me that asking for a trial by jury may very well backfire on them.

    Most likely not. Juries are not likely to be very technically apt. It's almost certain that they will ask "have you ever used ethernet" during jury selection and avoid those people who know that they have.

    After that everyone will realise why it's called "intellectual property" by the fraudsters who run our legal systems. The way it's presented the patent makes this patent someone's possession. The jury just thinks "I wouldn't like it if someone took my car away from me; they should be going to prison and not just paying a fine". The compensation ends up massive.

    The problem is that all these companies have set themselves up as fall guys since they all have legal departments which spout off about "respecting intellectual property". They can't even use the argument that there is no such thing because their own press releases would be used against them.

    finally; blaming the patent troll is a bit stupid. They are an inevitable part of a system which tries to treat ideas like property. There are two groups available here to blame. Those that set the laws take most of the blame and the IEEE where 3COM was a member at the time the standard was set should take the rest. Organisations involved in standardisation should be required to defend the free use of a standard with all their patents.

  • by BBCWatcher (900486) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:08AM (#29804767)
    I wonder why the plaintiff is not suing some obvious companies. Cisco would be an obvious candidate -- and they have deep pockets. But all of the current defendants don't actually make Ethernet equipment. They buy Ethernet chipsets from companies like Intel, Broadcom, AMD, Marvell, VIA, and NVIDIA, among many others. Why isn't the plaintiff suing them?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:08AM (#29804779)

    Just imagine what would happen if PARC became a patent troll. The ethernet originated there in the form of an office memo, so they can make a pretty good lawsuit out of that one. Not to mention laser printing, page markup, OOP, groundbreaking work on NLP, rudimentary VLSI and perhaps most famously the GUI. They did loose a landmark case against Apple for the GUI, though.

    It's pretty amazing if you think about it what a few people can do to change the world.

  • by cjfs (1253208) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:14AM (#29804799) Homepage Journal

    Anyone else read that as Use Their Net Innovations?

  • by E-Lad (1262) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:21AM (#29804835) Homepage

    Assuming that the article's list of defendants is complete, it's interesting that this troll is going after companies which make finished systems, and not the companies which make the actual ethernet chipsets and MACs that go into those systems (Broadcom, Marvel, Intel, RealTek, etc)

    One would think that those would be the source of any patent infringements (real or imagined) when talking about ethernet itself.

  • Re:There goes 3com (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Evil Shabazz (937088) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:29AM (#29804871)
    My initial impression was also that USEI was a side-car company created by 3Com in the interest of trolling some of their old patents. However, after reading the following blog, I'm not as convinced. USEI could very well just be the slimy, independent patent troll it appears to be on the surface. http://nerdtwilight.wordpress.com/2009/10/16/3com-not-affiliated-with-u-s-ethernet-innovations/ [wordpress.com]
  • Re:There goes 3com (Score:5, Interesting)

    by AHuxley (892839) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:31AM (#29804881) Homepage Journal
    Whats a US tech corp to do?
    Sell $700 fire safe connectors to the US mil?
    Some green gov grant for connecting smart load balancing solar cells?
    Race to the bottom with useless consumer tech pouring out of China via other US firms?
    They cant make anything new in a mature industry, they cannot be the 2% of some big step, must have eg usb, blu ray, pci ect.
    All they have left is dusty folders of what might have been and staff rushing out China like products, hoping the brand is still strong.
    The 80's and 90's and dot com days are over, if you want to win you have to put cash into R&D for real ;)
  • Re:There goes 3com (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ishobo (160209) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @04:35AM (#29805145)

    ...get into the mass market PHY business.

    That is a commodity business. You would have to be insane to recommend that.

    The fact that 3Com, once a reputable company of top notch networking technology...

    You are late to the party. 3Com died as a company a decade ago. Do you not remember the fiasco when they discountinued every non-SOHO hub, switch, and router in 1999? Oh yes, that was so much fun. After being given product support timelines and signing on the line, to find out through the newswire that your recent purchase would not be fulfilled and any product you already had in your possession was orphaned. And worse, you could not reach your sales rep.

    They rolled out ISDN SOHO products several years late and did the same thing for DSL. They could not roll their own VPN firewalls, instead they had to repackage Sonicwall products. 3Com lost the high end NIC business to Intel and the low end to products from Taiwan.

    We will not mention the cluster fuck known as USR.

    3Com is a example of a company that never looked over its shoulder until it was too late. I am amazed they are still in business, with all the bridges they burned and bad blood.

    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)

    If I were 3Com? Is that like, if I was a fire truck? Luckily, they already have high end L2-4 switches.

  • Re:Trial by jury... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shentino (1139071) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @05:09AM (#29805275)

    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.

    Trying to do business fair and square is like trying to box with one hand behind your back.

    As long as unethical companies get a blind eye from the ref, there is no incentive to play fair, because once one guy cheats to get ahead and gets away with it, everyone else must either eat their dust or follow suit.

  • by Big Jojo (50231) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @05:14AM (#29805297)

    Didn't the AMD LANCE Ethernet controllers (including Am7990) do per-packet DMA into host memory, and ring buffers? The Linux LANCE driver has a 1993 copyright, and I'm fairly sure the chip was earlier than that. At the time, ISTR it was one of the few nicely designed Ethernet chips in existence.

    So if your quick scan is correct, then either AMD should have been sued back then ... or there's this thing called estoppel [wikipedia.org] which really ought to block this suit. Unless maybe AMD licensed the patent? Though I also seem to recall that estoppel doesn't always apply in patent cases like it does elsewhere.

  • by adamchou (993073) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @05:31AM (#29805367)
    I'm going to bet that when 3com sold that patents to USEI, there was some agreement that USEI would not sue specific other manufacturers which probably included the companies you mentioned. If the two networking power houses are anything like the CPU powerhouses, there are numerous patents 3com owns that Cisco infringes and numerous patents Cisco owns that 3com infringes upon. To sum it up, USEI probably inherited the MAD that 3com used to have.
  • by powerspike (729889) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @05:40AM (#29805419)
    Now, I'm not a lawyer, however isn't a part of the patent system protect it or lose it, if it was made apart of a standard that is used globally, it means they can't say they didn't know about it, so isn't them waiting 10 years invalidating the license because they didn't protect it?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @06:13AM (#29805549)

    From 1994 to 1997 I worked for a company that worked with 3Com writing device drivers for the 3Com adapters that seem to be based on these DMA patents. My vague recollection is that we spent at least 2 years working with at least 3 different versions of 3Com's EISA and PCI ethernet adapters and as far as I know the full DMA mode never worked 100% correctly on any of them. The different versions of their controllers had different bugs. Some would lockup, some would drop interrupts, or randomly stop DMA mode, or corrupt buffers, etc. I think in most cases the workaround suggestion from 3Com was to periodically poll the adapter status and if you detect it's wedged force a full reset and completely reinitialize the adapter. Of course doing stuff like that totally destroys system performance so we simply ignored the DMA capabilities and did PIO in the interrupt handlers to transfer packets to/from the adapters 1-2K buffers (one packet per interrupt). I might be wrong but I think it was at least 1998 and their 4th generation PCI-ethernet adapter before 3Com had a PCI-ethernet design that did DMA to/from ring buffers correctly and by that time the rest of the world was all shipping products based on $10 dnet-clones from 6 or 7 companies in Taiwan (and 3Com's design had morphed into a something that looked a lot like dnet-clone but with a lot of extra, useless features).

  • by Peter Simpson (112887) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @06:55AM (#29805727)

    My understanding about the licensing of patents like these, is that the chip manufacturer needs to have paid for the necessary licenses before making the chips. He sells subsidiary licenses with the chips (they're included in the cost of the parts), otherwise, no one would buy his parts. The patent holder usually goes after the chip manufacturer if there's a licensing issue.

    This has always been the way licensing has worked in the industry. I suspect this troll doesn't understand that. Unless there's a problem with a specific Asian manufacturer not being fully licensed...and all of those being sued use their parts.

  • Re:Trial by jury... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Lars T. (470328) <Lars DOT Traeger AT googlemail DOT com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:20AM (#29806753) Journal
    They are also suing Dell. How many Texans know somebody working for Dell?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @10:14AM (#29807537)

    ...the end users of pre-designed/manufactured dropin chipsets providing this functionality? Apple certainly doesn't develop their own ethernet cards any longer, they just pickup a pre-designed chipset from some OEM and plop it down in their design. So, it would seem to me that companies like Apple are perfectly in the clear and it would be the chipset OEMs that are at risk.

    Of course the same could be said for the recent WiFi patent disputes, very few of those companies sued or coerced into licensing actually produce their own chipsets, so why would they need the license? Only the OEM should need the license if they even really need one at all...

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