MobilePro Files for Zigbee Patent

By Susan Kuchinskas

April 08, 2004

The application describes a technology the company says will increase integration on a semiconductor chip for wireless communications.

MobilePro is making a strategic bet that the systems-on-a-chip (SoC) craze will only continue in an upward motion.

The Bethesda, Md.-based company Thursday said it has filed a patent application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that covers 32 claims in multiple frequencies around multiple wireless standards including ZigBee, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

According to a company prepared announcement, the patent application describes a technology to increase integration on a semiconductor chip for wireless communications that reflects the trend toward fully integrated systems-on-a-chip. ZigBee, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are standards for short-range wireless communications.

"If the patent claims we are applying for are issued by the U.S. Patent Office, we believe we would achieve a strong, defensible technology position in the wireless market that would justify a significant expansion of MobilePro's wireless technology division," Jay Wright, president and CEO of MobilePro said in a statement.

Ian Barkin, an analyst with The FocalPoint Group, said that it sounds like MobilePro hopes to produce a chip that acts as a sort of Esperanto, or universal language, for the various protocols, allowing seamless communication across multiple modes.

"There's been systems-on-chip convergence over time, and the radio transmissions are getting integrated into the chip now too," he said. "If they can create a chip Esperanto of sorts, they'll streamline development times and promote widespread adoption."

Barkin said as devices using different protocols proliferate, machine-to-machine communications could become a mess. The ability for chips to exist and work in multiple environments would allow the vision of ubiquitous wireless embedded network to take shape. "That is really a Holy Grail for machine-to-machine," he said.

According to Frank Hawkins, president of Hawk Investments, MobilePro was a shell company until Wright took over in December 2003. But the company employed two "brilliant" Korean nationals, and Wright worked with them to push their technology to be patent-ready.

"The technology has lain dormant, or has been building within the company," Hawkins told internetnews.com. "Wright began to move quickly."

Since April 2003, the company began working on a ZigBee wireless integrated circuit; signed an agreement to develop new CDMA, W-CDMA and 3G wireless technology with Axstone, a South Korean wireless technology company; and agreed to acquire two ISPs.

Wright told internetnews.com that he was recruited to turn the company around.

"When we took over, the stock was trading for $01.8, and the company was floundering. It had never closed an acquisition, and development had stalled. You can only survive as a public company so long without revenue."

He divided the company into two divisions: a telecommunications services division that would bring in revenue, and a pure research division that the telecom division would support.

According to information on the Hawk Investments Web site, MobilePro's market cap is $20.3 million, with 155 million basic shares and 139 million diluted shares. The stock closed yesterday in over-the-counter trading over the counter at $0.131. The company has an equity line of credit with Cornell Capital, a Jersey City, N.J. investment company.

MobilePro received five patents on technology for wireless antennae in March 2003. Wright said the company hopes to file one more application before the end of the year. Regarding the latest application for chip technology, he said it was hard to say whether the tech is already being used, but his lawyers had found no prior art.

MobilePro would not be the first unknown company to emerge with a portfolio of patents central to an industry. In March, Calypso Technologies announced it had begun a licensing push for its patent on roaming between wide area cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

Venkat Bahl, vice president of marketing for Ember Technologies, maker of embedded technology for wireless networking, said that the patent didn't seem like a big deal. Bahl is a founder of the ZigBee Alliance, an industry consortium that is still defining the standard. He had not seen the patent application.

Bahl said that his organization takes a pragmatic approach to the incorporation of patented technologies in the standard. "From The Alliance perspective, you can go crazy trying to figure out all the patents involved. At some time it's not worth the return on investment." The Alliance relies on members to disclose whether they have IP that may be involved; those that do offer them up on either a royalty-free or fair license basis.

He pointed out that companies and standards bodies have an incentive not to do patent searches, because if they became the subject of an infringement suit, the complainant could claim that they did or should have found the patent during a search, and therefore willfully infringed.

"When we hear about stuff, we approach the company," Bahl said. "But we don't do active searches. You can get into an even bigger legal problem that way."



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