On Friday, January 4, 2013, a non-practicing entity named Steelhead Licensing LLC filed a litany of SEP-related lawsuits in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware against various wireless device manufacturers and cellular carriers. Each of the entities is accused of infringing a single, soon-to-expire (on Feb. 13) patent — U.S. Pat. No. 5,491,834, entitled “Mobile Radio Handover Initiation Determination.”
Steelhead’s complaints assert infringement based on devices that are compatible with 3G Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) standards, based in particular on the manner in which communications are “handed over” from cell to cell in a cellular communications network.
The ‘834 patent was previously owned by British Telecom, which made news in recent years due its involvement in patent disputes with Google and various cable and telecom companies. British Telecom also has engaged in strategic relationships with non-practicing entities in the past (such as with IPValue), but it is not clear from these new complaints whether Steelhead has any such relationship with British Telecom. [UPDATE — British Telecom has reportedly denied it has any stake in the litigations]. Nor is it clear when Steelhead obtained its right to sue on the ‘834 patent, or whether the ‘834 patent is encumbered by any FRAND obligations relating to the CDMA or LTE standards — although this will likely be investigated by the defendants. The upcoming expiration date of the patent means that any FRAND issues with respect to injunctive relief are likely to be moot, as Steelhead could not enforce an injunction on an expired patent anyway — any FRAND obligations would only have a bearing on past damages.
Most of Steelhead’s complaints can be accessed from the links below: