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Apple, Others Hit With Lawsuit On Ethernet Patents 304

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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  • by BifurcatedFocus ( 579276 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:31AM (#29804599)

    Three guesses which US Appeals Court the lawsuit was filed in.

    None! You cannot originate a patent infringement suit in a United States Court of Appeals, any more than you can file in the Supreme Court. Instead, patent litigation must start at a United States District Court. The losing party may appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

  • by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:09AM (#29804783)
    and is weilding them broadly

    Amazing that Slashdot still can't master the technology of the "spellcheck", which I had in WordStar in 1987.

  • by butlerm ( 3112 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:54AM (#29804953)

    There doesn't appear to be anything about this patent that is Ethernet specific. The claims appear general enough to apply to a modern implementation of virtually any network technology.

    A quick scan seems to indicate that virtually any network adapter that directly accesses transmit descriptors in host memory or writes packets into ring buffers in host memory (i.e. does DMA in any practical way on a packet by packet basis) violates the patent.

    I believe that covers about every state of the art network adapter in existence. I am somewhat curious about whether there is prior art in the way IBM mainframes handle I/O. Anyone know enough to comment?

  • Patent duration (Score:3, Informative)

    by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <arancaytar.ilyaran@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @04:21AM (#29805083) Homepage

    Unlike copyright terms, which have cancerously grown to effectively more than a century (for every work created more than 30 years before death), patent terms are still at the relatively reasonable lengths copyright used to be.

    It varies by type, but the standard appears to be 20 years. This patent was filed in 1990.

    Someone really did wait until the absolutely last possible moment. In another year, the patent will run out, so we should be able to keep using ethernet without disruption regardless of the outcome.

    However, the damages would likely be retroactive, so the companies involved must still hope that the patent gets tossed out.

    ((Also, all of the above is Wikipedia-fueled speculation by a non-lawyer.))

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @05:03AM (#29805235)

    If that is the case then there is much prior art. For example, the UK's JANET had its origins around 1970 and was pretty mature around 1980. Is this another case of the US issuing a patent to somebody for something alaready in common use elsewhere?

  • Re:Patent duration (Score:4, Informative)

    by js_sebastian ( 946118 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @06:01AM (#29805505)

    It varies by type, but the standard appears to be 20 years. This patent was filed in 1990.

    US patents used to last 17 years from date GRANTED, and were kept secret until granted. The company requesting the patent could deliberately delay the process of getting it granted for years, so that it remained secret and was valid until later (when the market for the covered "invention" is expetcted to be bigger). With the current system, there is less secrecy and patents are valid for 20 years from date of filing. I checked one of the 4 patents in the article. It was filed in 1992 and granted in 1994, so it should be valid until 1994+17=2011. Still quite a while to go without ethernet.

  • by JazzXP ( 770338 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @07:45AM (#29805987) Homepage
    I believe that's trademarks, not patents
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @07:49AM (#29806015)

    You're not a lawyer? Couldn't tell.

    No, patent law doesn't have a "protect it or lose it" feature, unless you mean paying maintenance fees.

    The closest thing to what you're talking about is the ability of the defendants to assert laches, but that's a general equitable doctrine, not patent-specific.

  • by H4x0r Jim Duggan ( 757476 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @07:57AM (#29806053) Homepage Journal

    I've started documenting it here:

    http://en.swpat.org/wiki/U.S._Ethernet_Innovations_v._many_defendants_(2009%2C_USA) [swpat.org]

    Help sought. Thanks.

  • Re:Patent troll? (Score:3, Informative)

    by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:05AM (#29806087)

    I think the plaintiff better read the famous cases against the United Shoe Machinery Company by the US government, where the Feds found United Shoe of abusing patent laws to exert its monopoly power, with United Shoe using its patent portfolio to shut out competitors in terms of shoemaking machinery.

    The US government could step in and say the plaintiff may have no case, since what the plaintiff wants is effectively a means of financial extortion against other companies.

  • Re:brilliant patent! (Score:3, Informative)

    by dkf ( 304284 ) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:05AM (#29806089) Homepage

    congrats, you have successfully deciphered the first claim of the patent, what about the other 28?

    You only really need to decipher the independent claims. Without them, the dependent claims don't hold up.

  • Re:There goes 3com (Score:3, Informative)

    by makomk ( 752139 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:20AM (#29806167) Journal

    3com still sold the patents in question to USEI to make some money, at the very least.

  • by Chris.Nelson ( 943214 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @08:34AM (#29806297)

    I was excited recently (OK, I'm a language geek) to learn that there's a "real" word for patent trolling: champerty (http://wordsmith.org/words/champerty.html)

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:36AM (#29806995)
    Most ethernet controllers have some buffer memory to achieve offload functionality.
  • Re:brilliant patent! (Score:2, Informative)

    by Theaetetus ( 590071 ) <theaetetus,slashdot&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @09:47AM (#29807161) Homepage Journal

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

    No, it doesn't. Hell, if you look at the related art section, which expressly states what the inventors considered to be prior art, they mention "a FIFO buffer on a network interface controller card". So, congratulations - not only did you misunderstand the claims, you failed to understand the second paragraph of the specification.

  • Re:Trial by jury... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Theaetetus ( 590071 ) <theaetetus,slashdot&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:04AM (#29808309) Homepage Journal

    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.

    Well, that, plus if their sole defense to the patent infringement suit was "intellectual property doesn't exist, your honor", then they wouldn't even make it to the jury trial, because the judge would grant summary judgement against them. Intellectual property does exist, and to claim it doesn't means you're fighting 500 years of legislative and judicial precedent. That's a high bar to jump.

  • by babboo65 ( 1437157 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @11:11AM (#29808421)

    First - someone please notify Al Gore that 3Com is claiming patent rights over the internet HE invented. I'm sure a movie will be forthcoming.

    Second - and slightly more seriously - what about RFC 826 (http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc826.html) regarding ethernet? Oddly enough 3Com isn't a part of that document and it clearly says "...This protocol was originally designed for the DEC/Intel/Xerox
    10Mbit Ethernet..." and was published in 1982. Here are the other ethernet related RFCs (http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/np.html#ETH).

    Now there IS a patent for the original ethernet standard issued in 1977 to Dr. Metcalfe, et al on behalf of Xerox (do we hear echos of PARC?) - http://www.google.com/patents?vid=USPAT4063220 [google.com]

Today's scientific question is: What in the world is electricity? And where does it go after it leaves the toaster? -- Dave Barry, "What is Electricity?"