Just like with cellular standards, the widespread use of the IEEE 802.11 wireless networking (“WiFi”) standard often makes WiFi-compliant devices easy targets for patent infringement lawsuits — particularly suits brought by non-practicing entities. The most infamous of these NPEs targeting WiFi is probably Innovatio IP Ventures LLC, who has accused thousands of businesses of all shapes and sizes of infringing WiFi-related patents formerly owned by Broadcom. But Innovatio’s not the only NPE out there asserting patents against WiFi.
Over the last few months, there have been some rumblings on the Internet about an entity named Wyncomm LLC that has been asserting that companies using WiFi-compliant devices infringe U.S. Patent No. 5,506,866, a patent titled “Side-channel communications in simultaneous voice and data transmission.” Today, Wyncomm filed patent infringement complaints against a number of companies in the District Court for the District of Delaware, alleging that these companies infringe the ‘866 patent by making, using, selling, importing, and/or providing and causing to be used products that transmit information utilizing WiFi in which analog data is converted to voice or sound. The companies Wyncomm has sued include at least Acer, Apple, ASUSTek, Blu Products, Bonac Innovation (also known as Mobiado), and Casio Computer, and is seeking damages to compensate Wyncomm for the defendants’ alleged infringement.
[UPDATE] Since we first posted this, Wyncomm has filed dozens of additional lawsuits in Delaware, accusing companies large and small of infringing the ‘866 patent. Companies accused of infringement run the gamut of nearly every letter in the entire alphabet, and include Cyberpower Inc., Dell, Digital Storm-Hanaps Enterprises, Doghouse Systems, Equus Computer Systems, Inc., Falcon Northwest Computer Systems, France Telecom, Fujitsu, Giga-Byte Technology, Hewlett-Packard, HTC, InfoSonics, Jetta International, Koninklijke Philips, Lenovo, LG, Micro Electronics, Micromax Informatics, Motion Computing, Motorola Mobility, NEC, Nokia, Octagon Systems, OPPO Electronics, Origin PC, Panasonic, Pantech, PCLaptops LLC, Puget Systems, Rain Computers, Razer USA, Research In Motion, Sager Midern Computer, Sand Dune Ventures, Sharp, Silicon Mountain Memory, Socket Mobile, Stone Computer, System 76, Systemax, Thinkpenguin, Toshiba, Velocity Micro, ViewSonic, Vizio, and ZTE. Given the diversity of locations of these companies (and the congestion of the Delaware district court’s docket), it wouldn’t be surprising to see a lot of motions to transfer venue. [/UPDATE]
It’s not surprising that Wyncomm filed suit now, considering the ‘866 patent expires in November of this year. (This is also likely part of the reason why Wyncomm is only seeking damages for infringement, not an injunction). The ‘866 patent was originally assigned to AT&T from the named inventors back in 1993 (in conjunction with the patent application), and, according to the USPTO assignment records, has changed hands a number of times since then. After being sold by AT&T, it has been owned at various times by Paradyne (a former AT&T subsidiary) Zhone Technologies (who bought Paradyne), as well as by patent holding companies Patent Business Development LLC and Clearwater Innovations LLC. Note that if Wyncomm’s infringement theory is that the ‘866 patent is essential to the IEEE 802.11 standard, any damages sought by Wyncomm in these cases may be limited to reasonable and non-discriminatory (“RAND”) royalties, as AT&T committed in 1995 to license its 802.11-essential patents on RAND terms.