Law of the Wireless LAN

By Wi-Fi Planet Staff

August 24, 2009

In this new column, we cover some of the ever-changing legal news in the world of wireless networking.

In this new column, we cover some of the ever-changing legal news in the world of wireless networking.

Reuters reported last week that U.S. telecommunications regulators sought public comment on how to define "broadband," a step that could impact how the industry delivers Internet services to consumers.

The Federal Communications Commission issued a fact-finding notice on its Web site seeking input from the American public as it drafts a national broadband plan, which is scheduled to be submitted to Congress in February 2010.

The FCC also said it plans to issue another public notice on its Web site to study the competitive nature of the U.S. wireless industry and how to "encourage further innovation and investment."

Retuers also reports that the notice to examine the wireless industry comes amid another inquiry by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski seeking information about why Apple Inc rejected Google Inc's voice application for the popular iPhone.

 For the full story from InternetNews.com, click here.

August 17, 2009

Matthew Lasar writing for Ars Technica reports: "Almost a year ago, Comcast pledged that it would sue the Federal Communications Commission over its Order sanctioning the cable ISP for peer-to-peer throttling. Now, the company has filed its case with the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Although Comcast's legal arguments are complex, the crux is simple: there were and still are no statutes or credible regulations that support the Commission's authority to act on this matter, the company says.

'For the FCC to conclude that an entity has acted in violation of federal law and to take enforcement action for such a violation, there must have been 'law' to violate,' Comcast's Opening Brief to the court contends. 'Here, no such law existed.'

"Undoubtedly, many parties will soon file with the court in opposition to and agreement with Comcast's legal claims. But Comcast had to file first. Here's a summary of what they say the FCC did wrong in punishing the company."

Read the full story here.

May 13, 2009

For IT Firms, Patent Reform Is All About Money by Kenneth Corbin, May 13, 2009

As battle for patent reform continues on the Hill, tech companies are embroiled in an increasing number of intellectual property disputes, with damages awards all over the map.

For tech companies, patent litigation is just a cost of doing business. The realistic goal is not to eliminate costs, but to contain them.

Here at George Washington University's law school, a parade of patent experts representing large corporations, law firms and academia gathered to compare notes on strategy and take stock of the state of the intellectual property landscape.

Points they agreed on: recent years have seen a sharp rise in the number of patent cases businesses in fields like IT and biotech are having to defend against, and those cases are increasingly brought by "non-practicing entities," known more derisively as patent trolls. For the rest of the story at InternetNews.com, click here.

May 1, 2009

A software developer claiming that Android, the Google-backed mobile operating system, violates his company's trademarked name has slapped the search giant and its allies with a lawsuit seeking millions in damages.

Erich Specht charges that Google and its partners in the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) that oversees Android development are violating his nearly seven-year-old trademark when marketing their mobile platform.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted Specht a trademark for his Illinois-based company, Android Data, in October 2002. Now, he's looking for damages from Google and each of the dozens of other partners in the Android mobile OS--including eBay, T-Mobile, Samsung, Motorola and Sony--to the tune of $2 million in damages from each, "per counterfeit mark per type of good or service sold."

Part of the claims in the suit, filed April 28 in U.S. District Court in northern Illinois, are based on the fact that Google filed for an Android trademark but was rejected by the patent office in 2008.

More details at InternetNews.com.

Related stories:

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On April 8th, a new piece of legislation was proposed in North Carolina, which industry watchers see as being a blatant attempt by an incumbent (Time Warner Cable) to prevent competition by removing municipal broadband projects, including any that might be funded by federal stimulus money.

"The bill, ironically titled Level Playing Field (SB1004/HB1252), seeks to punish municipal networks by requiring regulations, redirecting city tax revenues, auditing and reporting requirements [sic] driving up the costs of operating and offering a communications service.  Time Warner wants to restrict competition and ensure the continuation of a scarcity of bandwidth, rather than face an abundance of service options for consumers," writes mobililty blogger Debi Jones.

The bill's current wording says that it is an act "to regulate competition between local government and private business by requiring cities that provide communications service to the public to comply with laws applicable to private providers, to establish separate enterprise funds, to not cross-subsidize communications service with other governmental funds, to impute the costs that would be incurred by private providers, to annually remit to the city's general fund the costs that would be incurred by private providers, and to prepare an annual audit of competitive activities."

Although it does not mention Wi-Fi by name, it's no coincidence that several communities in North Carolina--within Time Warner's service areas--have developed successful muni-Wi-Fi networks to provide residents with affordable broadband.

"Wilson is [a] small town in eastern NC that got mad as hell at the high price of pitiful service TWC offers and decided they weren’t going to take it any more. They built their own network and its success has become the lightening rod [sic] for TWC’s legislative bid to kill muni broadband in the state," writes Craig Settles, author of Fighting the Good Fight for Municipal Wireless (2005) at his blog

"Through disinformation and proposing a state anti-local government laws, [sic] Time Warner (TWC) is trying to subvert N. Carolina communities’ right to select the best broadband solutions to meet their needs. TWC wants no government-driven broadband stimulus projects and no requirement to partner with local government for projects. If TWC wins here, this could be bad news for broadband in other states as incumbents try to repeat this performance," he writes.

Settles also points out that in North Carolina, municipal broadband projects are saving communities money while also bringing about important health care and other services.

"Craven County’s government-owned network is saving schools $275,000 a year in leased lines, while local government saves $50,000 annually in similar savings. Training and distance learning are done at schools where people before had to spend time and money traveling to the school district’s central office, or miss out on the opportunities altogether.

"In Madison County, NC the Mountain Area Information Network was key to saving the National Climatic Data Center that, because of the nature of its research, will draw huge amounts of money from around the world. The network keeps businesses and jobs in Madison and surrounding counties, attracts telecommuters and enables people to start new businesses that sell to worldwide markets," writes Settles.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Ty Harrell (D), Rep. Earl Jones (D), Rep. Marilyn Avila (R), and Rep. Thom Tillis (R). 16 other members of the House co-sponsored the bill.

Related stories: "Time Warner Caves, Postpones Usage-based Billing."

April 17, 2009

Trapeze Networks will announce on Monday that it has been awarded two new patents, one for a new method of distributing and caching password keys, and another for a methoed of reducing the power access points need, thereby increasing the likelihood that they can be run by power-over-ethernet (PoE).

“The award of these two new patents builds and reinforces Trapeze Networks’ position as an innovator and leader in wireless networking,” said Ahmet Tuncay, chief technology officer of Trapeze Networks in a statement. “We are delivering inventions that are solving real customer problems and driving the adoption of wireless networking around the world.” 

According to Trapeze, its “System and Method for Distributing Keys in a Wireless Network” (U.S. Patent 7,529,925) is a "foundational patent that relates to improvements in roaming performance."  It covers the fundamental operations of pairwise master key (PMK) caching (to maintain security when clients roam from one access point to another). It also allows the distribution of key information about client devices between access points, "such that clients can avoid re-negotiation of new keys with new access points as they physically move in a wireless network."  The goal, of course, being uninterrupted wireless service and a high-quality connection.

PMK caching is a common feature in enterprise-class WLANs that support high-quality VoIP services.

Trapeze's second invention, “Power-Aware Multi-Circuit System and Method” (U.S. Patent 7,525,215), is enables APs to use one or more types of power source (IEEE 802.1at, IEEE 802.3af, or proprietary PoE) and adjust the functionality of the access point based on the level of power available to it. "This invention simplifies installation and operation of access points on existing networks and allows businesses to entirely avoid installing expensive additional power mains, new PoE sourcing devices, and upgrading their wiring closets to support the wireless network," says the company. 

From the archives:

  • Wi-Fi Product Watch: October 2006, by Eric GriffithGizmodo reports that Apple has submitted a patent application on how future iPods will use wireless to make online purchases of electronic media; Trapeze Networks says its new SmartMobile architecture is the first to offer "intelligent switching, combining centralized, and distributed forwarding for optimized traffic flow."

**

MOSAID Technologies today announced that it has granted a patent license agreement extension to NXP B.V. of the Netherlands. MOSAID has also signed a five-year running royalty patent license agreement with an unnamed U.S.-based provider of wireless networking equipment.

"The new wireless agreement--our sixth deal since acquiring this valuable portfolio of intellectual property two years ago--shows that our wireless patents are essential to a broad range of Wi-Fi-enabled products, including handsets, enterprise, and consumer networking equipment, as well as laptops," said John Lindgren, President and Chief Executive Officer at MOSAID in a statement.

The agreement with NXP extends NXP's license under MOSAID's patents for embedded Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) used in its semiconductor products. The amended agreement adds an additional five years, on the same terms and conditions, to the five-year, running royalty patent portfolio license agreement entered into by Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V. (Philips) in April 2004.

In 2006, Philips established its semiconductor businesses as a separate company, NXP B.V., which assumed the patent license agreement with MOSAID. The new five-year term extends the agreement to April 30, 2014.

MOSAID has also signed a running royalty wireless patent license agreement with a U.S.-based maker of enterprise wireless local area network (LAN) equipment. According to MOSAID, the unnamed company's wireless networking products, including enterprise access points, operate in accordance with the IEEE 802.11 family of standards, and are now licensed under MOSAID's patents for a five-year term that began on April 15, 2009.

From the archives:

  • Wayport in Patent Suit, by Eric Griffith. September 24, 2004As some lawsuits end in our Wi-Fi planet (as the settlement between Symbol and Proxim seemed to last week), other suits always come up to take up the time of the court and, in some eyes, call into question the validity of current patent laws. Worse, settlements for some might not mean much in the long run to all.
  • CSIRO Wins Patent Victory, by Naomi Graychase. December 7, 2006 Last month, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia's national science agency, received a major victory in its fight to defend its patent on certain elements of wireless LAN technology.
  • Wi-Fi's Future: Patent-Pending? by Ed Sutherland. March 11, 2004 A flurry of patent claims causing concern in the high-flying Wi-Fi industry are grounded in old-fashion economics, says a Silicon Valley expert. "Merely selling products" is not enough to stave off stiff competition, says Dennis Fernandez, a partner in a law firm dealing with high-tech patent issues. He points to pressure by venture capital firms funding many Wi-Fi companies.


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