On Friday Apple Insider posted news that Apple has been sued by a non-practising patent assertion entity Wyncomm LLC for infringing on a 1996 patent covering “side channel communications in simultaneous voice and data transmission”. The title of the article bears reference to it being related to use of Wi-Fi technology. Before taking a look at the patent in question it should be noted Wyncomm is taking action against numerous other companies as well, 6 in total (including Apple) filed on the 11th of April and one on the 12th, all in the Delaware District. Links to court filings:
- Wyncomm LLC v. Cyberpower Inc. (1:13-cv-00600-UNA)
- Wyncomm LLC v. Acer Inc. et al (1:13-cv-00570-UNA)
- Wyncomm LLC v. Apple Inc. (1:13-cv-00571-UNA)
- Wyncomm LLC v. ASUSTek Computer Inc. et al (1:13-cv-00572-UNA)
- Wyncomm LLC v. Blu Products Inc. (1:13-cv-00573-UNA)
- Wyncomm LLC v. Bonac Innovation Corp. (1:13-cv-00574-UNA)
- Wyncomm LLC v. Casio Computer Co. Ltd. et al (1:13-cv-00575-UNA)
Docket Text for the Cyberpower and Casio cases notes the same US Patent Number that Apple Insider reported has been deployed against Apple , US Patent No. 5,506,866. Current docket information is not available for other cases at this time but it could be assumed they are probably ‘866 related as well.
The filing from the Apple suit indicates Wyncomm sent their initial patent infringement notice on the 29th of January which Apple is alleged to have promptly ignored. They also allege (Page 3, 13/14) that Apple with specific intent or willful blindness aids and abets others to infringe on it’s patent. This seems to have some similarities to the Lodsys situation and many other typical patent-troll cases where an overly broad and somewhat outdated communications patent is used to sue anyone/everyone with a product/website/service/etc that contains features that have become industry standard – specifically in this case perhaps anything that has multi-tasking features that include the ability to utilise an active data connection usable while simultaneously engaged in a voice call.
A cursory glance patent garners the following observations on the ‘866 patent:
- It includes illustrations featuring …rotary phones
- Was issued on April 9th, 1996
- Includes no mention of computer wireless networks nor specific mentions of cellular data connections
- States “…personal computers are not equipped with the interfacing hardware needed for more bandwidth-efficient synchronous transmission”
- Finally, in reference to the figure posted above, that “…the inventive concept is also applicable to other communications environments like cellular”
Although the precursor to 802.11 was invented in The Netherlands in 1991, 802.11 and personal computer wi-fi as we know it were defined 14 months after the issuing of ‘866 in June 1997. The time period the patent was issued in and the fact it contains numerous references to modem connections over PSTN suggest the true practical implementation of this patent was to enable use of a land line for voice calls in addition to a dial-up modem connection.
This would’ve been extremely relevant in the mid 1990’s where dial-up connections were abundant, so the question of will the addition of “other communications environments such like cellular” as a footnote be enough to prove Apple and others are infringing with 4G LTE Mobile Broadband/Wi-Fi connected multi tasking consumer electronics products in 2013? That will be for the court to decide.