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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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  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:58AM (#29804699)

      A jury in East Texas will be composed of at least 10 people who believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that Jesus rode to work on a brontosaurus.

      The other two will disagree, but they'd sooner strip naked and dance a jig in the town square than open their mouths to disagree.

      Be very afraid.

      • by master5o1 ( 1068594 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @04:53AM (#29805203) Homepage
        That settles it then. We'll just have to invite the entire jury for naked dance in town some time.
    • 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 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 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.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by shentino ( 1139071 )

            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 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 @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 QuantumG ( 50515 ) *

          The system is abuse.

          You remember that bit in The Road To Perdition where Tom Hanks demands justice for the mob boss's son killing his wife? The mob boss says "huh? we're all murderers here." You lie down with dogs, you get fleas.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by mcrbids ( 148650 )

          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.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          "...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

      • The problem is that all these companies have set themselves up as fall guys

        Nitpick: that's not what a fall guy is.

    • by donaldm ( 919619 )
      I think "A Texas company" says it all. I could be wrong but it seems that too many Patent Trolls love Texas. Unfortunately I think trial by jury may not backfire since many cases that go before a jury in Texas do find for the plaintive.

      No I won't read the patent numbered 5,299,313 which was issued in 1994 to 3Com and should have expired by now since I don't want a headache and maybe I just dreamed I was using 10base5 Ethernet in 1982, then 10base2 in 1984 and 10baseT in 1986 although I am fairly sure thes
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:28AM (#29804581)

    Token ring, here we come

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:58AM (#29804697)

      No, we'll just create a successor to token ring. I think we should call it Tolkien ring and it should support 10,000,000,000 [hob]bits per second.

    • 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?

      • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Big Jojo ( 50231 )

        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 [] which really ought to block this suit. Unless maybe AMD licensed the patent? Though I

        • by makomk ( 752139 )

          Wikipedia suggests the AMD LANCE dates back to 1985. However, looking at the data sheet, it appears to use the host memory for its ring buffers and packet storage. The patent is on using dedicated, non-host accessible RAM on the network adapter for the ring buffers and packets, together with memory-mapped IO for setting up DMA transfers.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Yeah, so let's all go scavenging the scrap yards for old Token ring cards!

      Reality check: Token ring would only be successful if swine flew.

  • 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 Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:42AM (#29804641)

    Everyone uses the _internet_, now. Who cares about ethernet?!

  • Damn! (Score:5, Funny)

    by willoughby ( 1367773 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @02:48AM (#29804659)
    Now I suppose it's back to those pain-in-the-ass coaxial cables.
  • 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.
  • by ChipMonk ( 711367 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:07AM (#29804759) Journal
    How difficult will it be to find a judge and jury whose sole access to the Internet is through dial-up, and whose workplace involves no computer networking whatsoever?
  • 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: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. []
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by makomk ( 752139 )

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

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

      by AHuxley ( 892839 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:31AM (#29804881) 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 ;)
      • Make 10gig-E or 100gig-E over copper work for reasonable cable distances. That's what they could do instead.

      • Exactly. Doesn't it strike you as strange that patents are more likely to be exercised in mature industries? Ever notice how industries that didn't rely upon patents in the beginning suddenly get all hot and bothered over patents when the industry matures?

        The only entities who like patents, and can really (ab)use them are incumbents.
    • 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.

    • If 3Com knew about the infringement, but knowingly let it go anyway, then shouldn't laches and/or promissory estoppel be a factor?

    • by upuv ( 1201447 )

      I absolutely agree. This will end 3Com.

      Clearly 3Com is on the dying a slow horrible death if they resort to this sort of action. So instead of going out in a respectable style by releasing the patents to the world they decide to slow innovation and drag already other suffering industries intro the courts to spew money on legal toilet waste.

      More people loose their jobs, shares of more companies drop, and more lawyers drive hummers.

      Well at least we have all learned something here. Short 3Com stock.

      Have you

  • 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 Tim C ( 15259 )

      Taking on deep pockets is risky though - if you win (or they settle out of court) they can pay out big, but they can also afford to mount a strong defence if they decide to fight it out.

      A common strategy is to take on some smaller, weaker player(s) first, bully them into submission, and thus have some air of legitimacy to your claims when you go after the big guys.

      Not that Apple is exactly small-time though...

    • 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.
    • They're probably going after the easy money first. Then once they prevail with the low hanging fruit, they go after the bigger players.
  • 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 cjfs ( 1253208 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:14AM (#29804799) Homepage Journal

    Anyone else read that as Use Their Net Innovations?

  • 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?

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

    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.

    • The chipset vendors are next. This is just a test lawsuit.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      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 p

  • by aysa ( 452184 ) on Tuesday October 20, 2009 @03:29AM (#29804873)
    Maybe he was not terminated, but instead became himself an Ethernet terminator.
  • 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>

    • Sounds quite an obvious thing to do to me - but then there are so many inventions that are obvious as soon as you see it. Obviousness is indeed one of the tests for a patent to pass, though it's one of the easiest I think to pass and one of the hardest to prove.

    • by brxndxn ( 461473 )

      Ya.. well I thought of the idea of 'putting chips on a multilayer card-like substrate.' If I never would've thought of this, imagine where we'd be!! We wouldn't have computers or anything!

  • 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.
    • 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.

      So you'd like to prevent specialisation? A company that's good at R&D probably won't be good at manufacturing, selling and distribution.

      The problem in this case, like many others, is the breadth & vagueness of the patent.

      • by Trepidity ( 597 )

        Patents don't have much to do with Adam Smith, though, since they're a government-created artificial monopoly, not something that exists in a free market.

        • Patents don't have much to do with Adam Smith, though, since they're a government-created artificial monopoly, not something that exists in a free market.

          The point of a patent is to account for the fact that ideally, the stuff you are patenting is a positive externality. A free market would likely lead to no invention or investment in R&D as there would be no way to recoup that cost. Either that, or it would lead to the excessive use of trade secrets, which would be even worse than the current occasional patent troll.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Trepidity ( 597 )

            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.

          • Trade secrets are perfectly fine. If you want broad adoption of your widget, you can decide to drop secrecy. If keep secrecy and someone else copies your secret, tough titties, you'll just have to *gasp* compete on a level playing field. Except you still at least have a head start.

            The current situation leads to little or no investment in R&D once a patent is granted, to companies that own patents not to develop anything but to shelve potential competition, companies that think they can own maths and nat

    • 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.

  • Patent duration (Score:3, Informative)

    by Arancaytar ( 966377 ) <> 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.))

    • Correction, sorry - "in the 1990s". So yeah, it may be a few more years.

    • 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.

  • 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).

  • This has been brought up before in the past when similar actions came up. My question is, does estoppel even exist anymore? Or is it an archaic somewhat quaint idea that only a naive person would expect to be honored? It seems these days submarine patents and the like are the norm and this simple legal concept should stop such things in their tracks. It's obviously the new business plan, sit on a patent for 10 or 20 years til everyone is using it, then all the sudden start suing.

  • Just because a company holds a patent you dont like doesnt mean they are a patent troll.

    3com may have very well held legitimate patents that were routinely and widely violated, they sold the patents
    because it wasnt worth the effort to sue patent violators.

    These are not software patents, they are regular old style patents.

    They are not suing open source, they are suing large well funded companies that made healthy profits
    using the technologies these patents were based on.

    In any event the patent they are refer

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MtViewGuy ( 197597 )

      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.

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

    I've started documenting it here: []

    Help sought. Thanks.

  • 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 (

  • 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 ( 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 (

    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?) - []

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