Wi-LAN Sues Cisco over Data-Transfer Patents

The Canadian broadband wireless provider says Cisco is one of many companies infringing on its patents relating to high-speed data transfers for the 802.11g and 802.11a standards.

Canadian broadband wireless technology provider Wi-LAN is suing industry giant Cisco Systems for patent infringement, Wi-LAN officials announced Thursday. And if the lawsuit goes well, the company may keep on suing.

All of the patents in question relate to OFDM (orthogonal frequency division multiplexing), the modulation technique that enables high-speed data transfers for both the 802.11g and 802.11a IEEE WLAN (wireless LAN) standards.

Wi-LAN Inc., of Calgary, Alberta, maintains that it is illegal for Cisco Systems Inc. to sell 802.11g and 802.11a devices in Canada without a license from Wi-LAN.

It says Ciscos Aironet and Linksys WLAN products, based on 802.11g and 802.11a, infringe on Wi-LANs Canadian patent No. 2,064,975 and Wi-LANs U.S. patents No. 5,282,222 and No. 5,555,268.

Out of court, Wi-LAN officials maintained that almost every WLAN company in the industry infringes on its patents.

"We wanted a big name because they [Cisco] are selling more than anyone else," said Sayed-Amr El-Hamamsy, president and CEO of Wi-LAN in Calgary. "It seems like people will not even have a negotiation with you until you turn nasty. Now, its time to seek whats rightfully ours."

Excepted from Wi-LANs ire are Philips Semiconductors, which licensed OFDM technology from Wi-LAN in 1999, and Fujitsu Microelectronics, which licensed Wi-LAN technology in 2003. The Fujitsu agreement was amended last month to reflect that Wi-LAN and Fujitsu are co-developing chip sets for the upcoming WiMax wireless broadband standard.

"We had filed with the IEEE that we would license our patents under nondiscriminatory rates," El-Hamamsy said. "We kind of expected that some companies would come to us directly, and some of them wed have to sue, and some companies would come along after we sued someone else."

Wi-LAN has tangential experience in suing Cisco. In 2000, Wi-LAN sued a company named Radiata for selling prestandard OFDM products in Canada. At the same time, Cisco was buying Radiata, with plans to use the technology to build 802.11a chip sets in-house.

The suit was dropped, but El-Hamamsy said it was dropped with the understanding that Cisco had no plans to sell OFDM-based products in Canada. Now, Cisco sells plenty of OFDM-based WLAN products in Canada.

Cisco does not create OFDM chip sets in-house, having nixed its Radiata plans earlier this year. Wi-LAN officials noted that this may hurt the case.

"It may turn out theyve been indemnified by their chip-set makers, in which case wed negotiate with them instead," said Ken Wetherell, vice president of corporate communications at Wi-LAN.

Next Page: Cisco responds to the lawsuit.