On December 20th, Washington Research Foundation (WRF) filed a complaint in the Western District of Washington (case 2:06-cv-01813-TSZ) alleging that numerous customers of British-based CSR, such as Panasonic and Samsung, were infringing at least one of a number of patents held by WRF. The lawsuit did not name CSR as a defendant in the current action since it was claimed that CSR might not necessarily know which chips where shipped to the U.S. by its handset customers.
Specifically, WRF lists 3 patents as being potentially infringed, and lists 1 patent as the "asserted patent":
• US Patent 5,937,341 ("Simplified High Frequency Broadband Tuner and Tuning Method") filed September 13, 1996 and issued August 10, 1999;The '963 patent has 71 claims, the '256 patent has 17 claims, the '068 patent has 84 claims, and the '341 patent has 42 claims, making a total of 214 claims that could potentially be an issue.
• US Patent 6,427,068, filed May 24, 1999 as a division of the '341 patent;
• US Patent 6,631,256, filed October 27, 2001 as a continuation of the '068 patent; and
• US Patent 7,116,963, filed August 25, 2003 as a continuation of the '256 patent (the "asserted patent").
If this type of "claim piling" seems familiar, it is because this technique was originally one of the signature strategies of Lemelson, who was notorious for asserting hundreds of claims at a time. Coincidentally, WRF is being represented by members of Lemelson's legal team, including Gerald Hosier.
The telecom industry will be undoubtedly watching this case very closely. Ericsson is credited with developing the Bluetooth specification (IEEE 802.15.1) in 1994. The spec was then further developed by other industry members and was formalized by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) upon the group’s formation 1998. It was through Ericsson and SIG that Bluetooth became a free wireless technology, like WiFi. Today SIG includes more than 6,000 companies worldwide – and Bluetooth is used in millions of electronic devices, from laptops to mobile phones to wireless headsets to remote controls.
Another interesting rub in this case is that the complaint, at times, reads as an advertisement for Broadcom, who is a current licensee of WRF. Towards the end of the complaint, WRF states the following:
Washington Research Foundation therefore does not assert infringement herein with regard to any of Defendant's products that use only Broadcom's licensed chipsets to enable Bluetooth technology. Thus, as a result of the Broadcom license, each of the Defendants has an option to avoid infringement of the Subject Patents and Applications by purchasing Bluetooth chipsets from Broadcom, an approved licensee of the Washington Research Foundation.