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Rockwell sues Bay Networks

Rockwell Semiconductor Systems files suit against Bay Networks for violating the terms of a licensing agreement over modem technology known as K56flex.

    Rockwell Semiconductor Systems today said it has filed suit against Bay Networks for violating the terms of a licensing agreement over modem technology known as K56flex.

    "Rockwell is suing Bay Networks because they are combining K56flex with another nonstandard 56-kbps modem technology--x2--in their products, in violation of their K56flex licensing agreement with Rockwell, and this puts our other customers at a competitive disadvantage," a Rockwell spokeswoman said in a prepared statement.

    Bay Networks vice president Jonathan Sieg countered that the company was "100 percent in compliance" with the licensing agreement, and said Bay intended to countersue. The suit, he said, was an attempt on the part of Rockwell to snuff out x2, the competing protocol developed by Rockwell's archrival, 3Com.

    "It feels to me like Rockwell is trying to force K56flex technology and limit the choices of Bay Networks' customers," Sieg said. "I'm only surmising that they are filing this completely inappropriate action in order to spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt among our customers."

    As the suit demonstrates, the showdown over the modem technologies is dragging more than just Rockwell and 3Com into the maelstrom. For months now, wrangling over intellectual property rights has left the industry without a standard for 56-kbps modems, preventing 3Com's technology, known as x2, from interoperating with Rockwell's K56flex protocol. Ultimately, industry observers say, consumers are discouraged from buying 56-kbps modems altogether.

    According to Rockwell's press release, the two companies had been trying to work out their differences prior to the filing of the suit. "Rockwell is committed to ensuring a level competitive playing field for all K56flex licenses," Rockwell's president, Dwight Decker, said in the release.

    Bay Networks said the suit was filed in federal district court in Los Angeles last Thursday. It was unclear whether Rockwell is seeking an injunction forbidding Bay Networks from using K56flex.

    Ken Krechmer, editor of Communications Standards Review, said both Rockwell and 3Com have been rumored to include exclusivity provisions in their licensing agreements. If that is the case, he said, the terms are at the detriment of those using the technology.

    "From a business standpoint, I think such contracts are bad for industry, because they don't give users what they want, which is connectivity," Krechmer said. "Customers want the added speed, and ISPs certainly don't want to dedicate multiple phone lines to x2 and Kflex" technologies."

    Krechmer estimated that Rockwell's K56flex is used in 60 percent to 80 percent of all "high-speed" modems, a category that includes 28.8- and 33.6-kbps modems as well as 56-kbps modems.