Three and a half years ago, I wrote an article about the coming WiFi patent problem
, focusing on the Canadian company Wi-LAN who claimed a bunch of patents related to WiFi technology. The company started off by suing Cisco. That lawsuit was eventually settled
, but Wi-LAN clearly wasn't done yet. The company has now sued 22 different companies for violating its patents
. This strategy seems to be the new strategy of patent holders: sue a ton of high profile companies all at once. It's what Sandisk did
for example. Why is it becoming more popular? Because these patent holders are afraid that one of the potential targets might sue them first
, seeking a declaratory judgment saying they don't infringe, and do so in a court other than the patent friendly court in Marshall, Texas
. Oh yeah, Wi-LAN also notes that it's more economical to sue everyone at once. How nice of them.
Of course, Wi-LAN is hardly the only
company that claims
patents having to do with WiFi
. It's a true patent thicket. If all these patents were actually valid and needed to be licensed no one could afford WiFi and it would be worthless. It's also worth noting that Wi-LAN's target list is somewhat ridiculous as well. It appears to be suing up and down the supply chain
from chip suppliers like Broadcom and Intel to computer makers like Apple, Dell, Lenovo and Sony all the way to retailers like Best Buy and Circuit City. Assuming that all are somehow responsible for paying Wi-LAN the company could conceivably get license fees three or four times for the same computer
. It's not hard to start adding up the questionable things going on here: (1) broad patents that are claimed to be important for a standard long after that standard has become widespread (2) these patents are one of many, many patents that claim to cover WiFi technology (3) filing the lawsuit against many companies at once (4) filing the lawsuit in east Texas and (5) filing the patents up and down the supply chain. This isn't what the patent system was designed to do and patent attorneys know it.