Wi-LAN sues everybody over Bluetooth

Claiming patent rights over the wireless technology, Wi-LAN launches a lawsuit against a wide range of tech companies, including Apple, HP, Motorola, and Sony.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

A small Canadian wireless company is threatening to take a huge chunk of the technology industry to court.

Ottawa-based Wi-LAN, which patents wireless products, is suing around 18 of the tech industry's largest players over what it claims are patent violations of Bluetooth technology. More specifically, Wi-LAN is alleging that these companies--which include Acer, Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Motorola, Sony, and Toshiba--have all infringed on one of its U.S. patents for selling PCs and mobile phones equipped with Bluetooth.

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Announced Thursday, the suit claims a violation of Wi-LAN's U.S. Patent No. 5,515,369. Issued in 1996, the patent covers a "method for frequency sharing and frequency punchout in frequency hopping communications network."

In plain English, that means the patent is for a technology by which wireless systems such as Bluetooth avoid interfering with other wireless systems such as Wi-Fi, which operate in an unlicensed frequency, according to Tyler Burns, Wi-LAN's director of investor relations and communications.

The filing shows also that the patent was issued to Metricom, once famous for launching one of the first wireless Internet services, known as Ricochet, before going bankrupt almost 10 years ago. But when asked about the connection between Metricom and Wi-LAN, Burns declined to comment.

This is far from Wi-LAN's first such legal gambit. The company has a long history of taking other technology companies to court over patent violations.

In 2002, Wi-LAN sued Redline Communications over the use of a wireless networking technology that the company claimed violated one of its patents. Shortly after that case was settled out of court in 2004, the company raised its game by suing networking giant Cisco Systems over a similar allegation.

In 2007, Wi-LAN filed another suit against 22 different companies, many of them also mentioned in the latest lawsuit. The 2007 case claimed that these companies had violated key Wi-LAN patents for Wi-FI and DSL technology in laptops and routers. Another case launched in June 2008 targeted wireless handset manufacturers. Both cases are set to go to trial in January 2011, according to Tyler.

Wi-LAN touts a portfolio of more than 800 patented devices, some of them designed and built internally and others licensed from outside companies.