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Mobile

Debunk cell phone patents, win $60,000

BountyQuest is offering the money to anyone able to prove that Freedom Wireless doesn't deserve three patents for technology crucial to the operation of prepaid cellular phones.

A Web site is offering $60,000 to anyone who can prove that Freedom Wireless doesn't deserve three patents for technology crucial to the operation of prepaid cellular phones.

The $60,000 is from an anonymous donor, said BountyQuest's managing editor, Scott Veggeberg. He refused to name the money's source. BountyQuest is in the business of busting patents and has been posting similar bounties from anonymous donors for at least a year.

But a source familiar with the case said the bounty is backed by one of the more than dozen mobile service providers that Phoenix-based Freedom Wireless is suing in federal court, claming it is owed millions of dollars for patent infringements.

The companies are nearly all major carriers, including AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Bell Atlantic and AirTouch Cellular.

The bounty is the latest twist in a legal battle that some believe could help shape the future of a nascent prepaid cellular phone industry that some expect to more than double in size by 2005, according to The Yankee Group.

Freedom Wireless was granted the U.S. patents in November for creating a simple way to complete prepaid wireless calls. A prepaid cell phone is much like a calling card. People buy a phone with a preset number of minutes.

Freedom Wireless began seeking the patents in December 1994, after nearly five years of research and development.

In December the company filed its lawsuit against more than a dozen companies in U.S. District Court for Massachusetts. The suit is seeking an injunction to keep the carriers from using the technology until they enter into licensing deals with Freedom Wireless.

Much of the audience being targeted for prepaid cell phones are teens, with nearly 43 million forecast to have cellular phones by 2004.