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Tech Industry

Motorola sues two modem makers

Motorola alleges that software modem makers PCTel and AltoCom have infringed on its patents for analog modem technology.

    Motorola said Wednesday it filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Boston against software modem makers PCTel and AltoCom.

    PCTel and AltoCom are makers of software modems. Software-based modems use the computer's main microprocessor for computing power rather than a set of special modem chips or a separate digital signal processor (DSP). Because fewer chips are needed, they are less expensive and easier to upgrade than traditional hardware modems.

    PCTel sells its technology both to PC makers such as Fujitsu and end users, while AltoCom (a spinoff from General Magic) mainly sells to handheld PC makers such as Philips and Sharp Electronics.

    Motorola alleges that the companies have infringed on Motorola's patents for V.34 and V.90 analog modem technology, as well as other patents regarding software modems.

    "After lengthy discussions with both parties, PCTel and AltoCom declined our licensing offer. We were left no option but to litigate," claimed Richard Leslie, vice president and general manager of Motorola's Software Products Division, in a prepared statement.

    "We haven't seen the complaint yet, so I can't comment on it," said Zarko Draganic, president and CEO of Mountain View, California-based AltoCom. PCTel, which is based in Milpitas, California, could not be reached for comment.

    "We can't comment on the lawsuit because we haven't seen it," said Andrew Wahl, PCTel's CFO. Wahl said he felt the company had a considerable patent portfolio in the area of software modems, noting that the company has been in negotiations with Motorola for licensing.

    "It's unfortunate that rather than competing in the marketplace and resolving these issues through reasonable business discussions, Motorola felt it was necessary to resort to litigation," he said.

    Standards such as V.34 for 33.6-kbps modems and V.90 for 56-kbps modems are set by the International Telecommunications Union, but patent licensing remains up to companies to complete. Companies are required to license technologies related to the standard at "reasonable" terms, but those terms remain largely up to patent lawyers and companies to hash out.

    Litigation over licensing is not unusual in the industry. In March 1998, Motorola and 3Com announced the settlement of an earlier patent infringement dispute over V.34 technology and agreed to cross-license each other's modem patents.