Wi-Fi Acacia's next patent target

Company whose software patent ambitions are well-known to the streaming media industry sets its sights on Wi-Fi registration pages.

A patent warehouse that has exerted a toll on Internet streaming media is setting its sights on wireless hot spots.

The software patent ambitions of Acacia Research are well-known to the streaming media industry. Acacia initially targeted Web pornographers, shutting down sites that neglected to pay its licensing fees, but since then has exacted license fees from a broad array of cable, satellite and Web content companies that now number 264 and include Walt Disney.

"We just signed 85 cable agreements with small to midsized companies," said Rob Berman, executive vice president and general counsel for the Newport Beach, Calif.-based company. "We're always looking to purchase new patents and are considering several right now in a number of areas, not necessarily just the Internet."

Acacia calls itself a "resource for inventors and medium-sized companies" that buys their intellectual property, grants them a license to use it, and pays them a percentage of licensing proceeds.

Acacia's latest target centers on its patent describing how wireless networks present unidentified computer users with Web pages that redirect them to log-in or subscription pages. Hotels, airports and other areas with Wi-Fi hot spots typically use such redirection schemes.

Acacia's patent, No. 6,226,677, was originally granted in May 2001 to LodgeNet Entertainment, a Sioux Falls, S.D., information technology company targeting hotels. Acacia purchased the patent in July.

Berman said Acacia launched its Wi-Fi licensing campaign in September and is in advanced licensing discussions with a number of potential licensees. No Wi-Fi licenses have been signed yet.

Acacia has brought its streaming patents to bear not only against Web content companies but also against cable industry giants and smaller companies, alleging that video-on-demand services require an Acacia license.

Despite Acacia's success in winning hundreds of licenses for its streaming patents, several companies have resisted and are facing court cases around the country. Acacia has tried to consolidate for discovery a number of cases pending in U.S district courts for Arizona, Minnesota, the Northern District of Ohio, and the Northern and Central Districts of California.

A judge in Santa Ana, Calif., on Thursday will hear a motion for summary judgment on some counts. But Berman said that even if the judge grants summary judgment, the case will proceed on remaining counts.

Acacia's legal opponents in the Web pornography business were buoyed recently when Sex.com CEO Gary Kremen donated $10,000 toward their legal expenses.

"We're confident we will prevail," Berman said. "Either way, the litigation will continue and we'll continue to sign licenses and continue our court actions."

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