MORE WAVES FROM ACROSS THE BORDER: Wi-LAN PREPARES FOR OFDM OFFENSIVE - While the RIM/NTP battle rages on, another small company from Canada, called Wi-LAN has completed a significant step in its patent enforcement effort by obtaining a settlement from Cisco for patent infringement in a Canadian court.
Wi-LAN was founded in 1992 by two Canadian researchers, and holds a variety of patents related to orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM), a modulation technique at the heart of the WiFi standards 802.11a and 802.11g, as well as the emergent WiMax standard 802.16 (see US Patents 5,282,222 and 5,555,268). Technology such as W-ODFM is part of the foundation of the Physical Layer of the 802.11a and 802.11g specifications.
One problem with Wi-LAN is that they have previously taken a visible role in the IEEE standards process for wireless data transfer (which includes the 802.11 standard). Under the standards process, the Wi-Fi field does not necessarily establish new principles, but uses techniques that a large group of users must agree upon in order to promote its widespread use. Typically, claimed inventions are combinations of old technologies used in a new way. Thus, any patents that purport to cover standardized technologies have some hoops to clear before they will be viewed as legitimate.
Also, participation in IEEE-based standards requires companies to file assurance letters with the organization in accordance with the bylaws of the IEEE Standards Board. These "letters of assurances" make it clear that an IEEE standard "may include the known use of essential patents and patent applications," and that any enforcement of existing patents will either be waived or provided with "reasonable" royalty rates "demonstrably free of any unfair discrimination." Wi-LAN has previously reneged on this pledge back in 1998, and has been open regarding its intention to enforce its patents.
The interesting thing about Wi-LAN is that they have, so far, limited enforcement of their OFDM patents to Canada. According to Wi-LAN:
By bringing the lawsuit in Canada instead of the U.S., Wi-LAN will be in a country where the cost is lower and the onus is on the defendant . . . If there are any smoking guns -- and we don't expect to see any -- then you get to see it up front and formulate your attack on that basis. Plus, it would set a precedent that could be viewed for future patent suits in the U.S. if needed.
Also, Cisco was specifically targeted by Wi-LAN "to eventually set a precedent that will bring more players to the table." Interesting to see what the next move will be . . .