WiMax, 802.11n Renew Patent Debate

WiMax, 802.11n Renew Patent Debate

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Written By Eric Sandler

By Ed Sutherland

April 07, 2005

More companies with purchased intellectual property are coming forth to stake a claim against established wireless vendors.

As interest grows in extending the reach (802.16/WiMax) and speed (802.11n) of wireless networking, so does the intensity of a long-running battle over who will profit from the new technology. An interesting sub-plot to the story of when the proposals become actual IEEE-endorsed protocols is a recently-renewed debate over patents.

In a rare demonstration of reticence, those companies involved in the two protocols are refraining from going on record with their concerns about the latest round of patent licensing. Emanating from New York City and Australia, the claims could have differing impacts on the industry.

“Heightened interest in broadband wireless, including the deployment of networks using fixed Wi-Fi and WiMax standards” prompted Speedus Corp., a New York-based holding company, to announce it will begin licensing the patents it owns, some seeming to bear on MIMO (multiple in, multiple out), a technology at the core of 802.11n. Speedus also owns a café franchise and a medical equipment house, along with a broadband patents subsidiary.

Defining MIMO

Of particular interest is a Speedus Corp. patent similar to one definition of MIMO. U.S. Patent 5,949,793 includes a method “relating to simultaneous transmission of digital and analog signals in the same band.” Airgo, whose executives helped pioneer MIMO, defines the technology this way: “Two or more unique radio signals, in the same radio channel, where each signal carries different digital information.” Airgo markets its version of MIMO under the “True MIMO” brand.

The patent is one of 43 Speedus hopes to license, which it now lists at its Web site. The MIMO patent was purchased from an unknown source, while the others were developed in-house by Cellular Vision & Technologies, a Speedus subsidiary, and partner Philips Electronics.

The licensing fee will “be based upon market conditions and demand,” according to Speedus spokesman Peter Hodge. The company plans to follow a RAN (Reasonable and Non-discriminatory) licensing policy, according to Hodge.

Depressed No More?

In 2004, Speedus told the SEC it was not pursuing licensing deals at the time due to the high cost of litigating patent infringement lawsuits and the depressed tech market. Today, Speedus says it “will enforce and protect its intellectual property.” The holding company says it believes it’s possible that wireless companies are infringing on its patents.

“We believe that it would be difficult for any wireless communications company to construct a system without using one or more of our patented technologies,” Speedus states on its company Web site when describing its Broadband Patents LLC subsidiary.

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Speedus is also seeking licensing for patents covering a “broadband multi-function cellular data and video system,” “radio signal distortion reduction,” and “a redundant transmitter arranged with backup switching.”

“There’s going to be intellectual property claims with any new and exciting technology,” says one anonymous source. Although the industry insider dismisses the new claims as just “groups making noise,” the executive refused to go public with his concerns.

Avoiding Patent Radar

Fabless chipmaker Bandspeed, with a patent claiming to reduce interference with 802.11n and aid MIMO, would only say it “is aware of the patent claims, but would rather not comment.” One source said companies with MIMO-related patents hesitate to comment on the new claims lest they appear on the radar of firms looking to enforce similar patents. The IEEE lists 23 companies with patents related to 802.11n. According to the U.S. Patent Office, there are 634 U.S. patent applications and 255 patents granted regarding MIMO.

Two groups—WWiSE (World-Wide Spectrum Efficiency) and TGn Sync—are battling for control of 802.11n (TGn Sync is currently winning, but victory is not clear-cut). Since 802.11n was first announced, the two camps—one with a majority of chipmakers and the other led by OEMs which would use the chips—have sniped at each other.

Another patent claim is coming from the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) regarding OFDM technology, part of 802.11a/g/ and 11n. One former executive of a top-ranked computer maker alleges the organization is asking a $4 licensing fee for each chipset using OFDM technology, amounting to up to 70 percent of a chipset’s price. (CSIRO did not respond to Wi-Fi Planet’s request for comment.)

Cisco recently shut down Radiata, the Australian chipmaker founded by CSIRO professors. Radiata helped develop Cisco’s 802.11a/b/g products.

Prior Patent Sweeps

Less than a year ago, Acacia Technologies Group told Wi-Fi hotspot operators and wireless ISPs that they must either pay a $1,000 annual licensing fee or face patent infringement lawsuits. The company says it owns the technology behind Wi-Fi gateway page redirection. Acacia sent out information packets along with a 30-day deadline to sign a licensing agreement. Rob Berman, Acacia executive vice president of business development and general counsel, denied the company was ‘shaking down’ Wi-Fi firms.

Also last year, Canadian WiMax vendor Wi-LAN announced it owned patents on OFDM. That company is also suing Cisco over sales of 802.11a products in Canada using OFDM.

Calypso Wireless declared companies wishing to implement cellular-to-Wi-Fi roaming would have to pony up the licensing fees.

Where are they now? Acacia continues on its patent purchasing binge, the latest in December when it bought Global Patent Holdings LLC and 121 additional U.S. patents. Wi-LAN is losing cash ($2 million US in the first quarter) and replaced its CEO; its stock price fell to .82 cents per share. It traded last year as high as $3.50.

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