This week: an inventor files nearly 20 lawsuits just months before his patent expires; a pair of patent-holding lawyers go after the iPod and iPhone; and two weeks after complaining to Congress about patent trolls, a tech company is sued by... a patent troll.
On A Bender
Last week we briefly mentioned inventor Gregory Bender and his suits alleging that several technology companies had infringed his patent 5,103,188. Bender filed the patent, which describes a type of electrical circuit, in August 1989.
On March 23, a week after filing his initial batch of 11 suits, Bender filed eight more in federal district court in Oakland. His targets this time: IBM, Agilent, Cirrus Logic, Siemens, Nokia, Sony, Motorola, and ST Microelectronics. Add those names to the others he’s already accused of infringement, which include Freescale, National Semiconductor, and AMD, and you’re looking at a pretty nice chunk of the tech sector. (Is it just us, or is Intel notably absent from the list?)
Contacted by TPA, Bender’s attorney, Piedmont, California, sole practitioner David Kuhn, stuck to the basics when describing his client’s invention as a “buffered analog amplifier,” used in such common electronics devices as cell phones, high-definition televisions, and MRI machine (to name a few). Asked for information about Bender, Kuhn, declined to provide any, but promised to relay our inquiry to the inventor, who, according to his complaints, lives in San Jose.
Bender previously filed two lawsuits in E.D. Texas based on the same patent in 2006: one against Texas Instruments and a subsidiary, the second against Analog Devices, Inc. In those lawsuits, both of which settled last year, Bender was represented by Hemingway & Hansen of Dallas, Texas.
Neil Smith, a Shepard Mullin litigator I spoke to at last week’s Ocean Tomo auction, says he’s gotten calls from several of the companies sued by Bender, and that he and some of his partners plan to form a joint defense group for the Bender litigations. Such groups can be an effective cost-control strategy for companies sued by the same plaintiff, but sharing counsel can be difficult for competitors.
Handing Out Accolades
Micron Technology. Hmmm. Where have we heard about that company lately? Oh, that’s right! Just a few weeks ago, Steve Appleton, the Boise-based chip manufacturer’s CEO, told a congressional committee taking testimony on patent reform that his company spent $30 million last year defending itself against patent lawsuits—money, Appleton said, that could have been used to create 450 jobs. (Read highlights of Appleton’s testimony on the Coalition for Patent Fairness blog. Scroll down to the March 10 entry. By the way, TPA thinks that for a lobby composed of tech heavies, CPF might want to upgrade its blog.)
Two weeks after Appleton complained about patent trolls, his company was hit again by—you guessed it—just the kind of entity he was griping about. Accolade Systems, LLC is a shell company that records indicate is controlled by—right again—a Silicon Valley patent lawyer and his partner. Attorney Paul Hickman and Michael Gough formed Accolade in tkdate to sue several technology companies in connection with the 7,130,888 and 7,100,069 patents, which claim a method of controlling a remote computer over the Internet.
I previously wrote about Accolade and Hickman in a story about lawyers asserting their own patents. Hickman was once a partner at Perkins Coie. He parted ways with his firm in 2006, a few weeks after he began suing companies for patent infringement; the stated purpose for his departure was to “devote more time to building companies” based on his inventions.
Three years later, anyone looking for those companies can expect a good long search. On the other hand, anyone looking for litigation brought by Hickman and Gough need only look at the dockets in the federal courthouse in Marshall, Texas.
In last week’s filing against Micron and its subsidiary, Aptina Imaging, Accolade claims that three types of image sensors made by the companies infringe the 7,463,298 patent, issued in December 2008. Gough is the sole inventor listed on the patent, entitled “Method and Apparatus for Detecting Camera Sensor Intensity Saturation.” I called Hickman to ask about his relationship with Accolade, but he didn’t return the call. The company’s Marshall-based attorney, Carl Roth, hasn’t called back yet either.
One of Accolade’s earlier lawsuits is still pending against Citrix Systems and Webex Communications; it’s scheduled to go to trial in Judge Leonard Davis’ Tyler, Texas, courtroom later in June.
Another Bite at the Apple
Affinity Labs is a Texas patent-holding company controlled by two IP lawyers with ties to an Austin law firm that until not long ago was known as Larson Newman Abel Polansky & White.
Not long ago, the firm dropped the “White”—as in Russell White, registered patent lawyer, and Affinity Labs owner—from its shingle. It so happens that White is also the named inventor on U.S. Patent Nos. 7,187,947, 7,440,772, and 7,486,926, both of which Affinity said in a suit filed last week in East Texas that Apple is infringing via its iPod, iPod touch, and iPhone products.
Texas corporate documents indicate that Affinity’s other owner is Harlie Frost—also, until recently, a Larson Newman attorney. Neither Frost nor White returned our calls this week, and their Duane Morris lawyers declined to comment.
Frost, by the way, once headed SBC Intellectual Property (now AT&T Intellectual Property). While there, he honed his patent-licensing chops by squeezing fees out of small businesses for various alleged crimes against intellectual property, such as using framed websites without SBC permission. White’s co-inventor on all patents described here is Kevin Imes, a patent agent previously at Larson Newman, who is not, however, listed as an Affinity Labs officer.
The three Affinity patents asserted against Apple involve the delivery of audio and video content. This lawsuit is the fourth one Affinity has filed in Judge Ron Clark’s Lufkin court in Lufkin. The first three asserted the 7,324,833 patent, which claims to cover connecting a portable media player to a car. Those lawsuits named car-stereo manufacturers, as well as the largest car manufacturers in Asia and Europe. The latter suits are scheduled for trial in November 2010.
Photo: Flickr / atomicShed