Is Motorola-Aruba lawsuit the tip of the iceberg?

* Wi-Fi patent infringement allegations could have ripple effect

Motorola stirred up a potential hornet's nest in the Wi-Fi community last week when it filed a lawsuit against Aruba Networks for infringement of several wireless LAN patents. Will other WLAN vendors selling centralized systems be targeted next, potentially changing the dynamics and pricing structure of the entire Wi-Fi industry?

Motorola received patents in February of this year for the so-called WLAN switch technology that its recent acquisition, Symbol Technologies, introduced in 2002. Symbol’s Mobius switch was the first WLAN system on the market to move network intelligence out of distributed radio access points and into a centralized hub for more scalable provisioning and management.

A series of startup companies followed with similar centralized designs: Aruba, Airespace (now merged with Cisco), Trapeze Networks, and Meru Networks, to name a few.

Motorola is suing Aruba for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 7,173,922, “Multiple Wireless Local Area Networks Occupying Overlapping Physical Spaces,” and Patent No. 7,173,923, “Security in Multiple Wireless Local Area Networks.” The company is also suing for infringement on two patents awarded in 2003 to a 2005 Motorola acquisition, Wireless Valley, for site survey/RF planning tools.

Aaron Bernstein, VP and deputy general counsel, intellectual property, for Symbol/Motorola, said Motorola’s intent is to protect its shareholders. But rather than seeking licensing fees and royalties, its aim is to “exclude the further use of our patent innovation,” he said.

“It doesn’t match up that this is good for shareholders if you don’t want royalties,” said Iain Gillot, president of iGR Research, a mobile and wireless research firm in Austin, Texas. “It’s a little odd to…have a patent and only exercise it yourself. There’s more to be gained by getting some money out of it.”

Bernstein did say that Motorola might be entitled to monetary damages, even for use prior to the patent being awarded because pending patent applications are made public.

It’s difficult to speculate what lies beneath. Bernstein wouldn’t comment on whether it intends to file suits against other companies with similar designs.

Aruba spokesperson Michael Tennefoss said at press time that his company hadn’t yet been served with papers so he couldn't comment.

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