A classless action? Attorney sues Cisco, others for patent infringement on IPTV, other devices

Thomas Simonian is taking a shotgun approach in a lawsuit against goliath Cisco, going for class-action status, but could he be just another troll?

Thomas Simonian is not tilting against windmills in this Illinois district court.  He brought a shotgun, and one of his targets on February 25 was Cisco Systems, along with six other corporations, accusing them all of patent infringement.

The six other targets listed are Advanced Vision Research, Darex, Global Instruments, Merck, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, and Tru Fire. Filing patent infringement suits against large companies appears to be a frequent pastime of this attorney. According to Justia.com, Simonian has 9 such cases pending before the Northern Illinois Federal Circuit Court, all filed between February 25 and March 4. In the case against Cisco, he's using the same tactic as against the others: A claim that Cisco deliberately continues to publish expired patent information on some of it's products, including the IPN330HD IPTV set-top box as if it was valid.   If he's right, he'll collect millions, at $500 per infraction, half to himself and the other half to 'the government'.  (Oh, and his court costs to be paid by the defendant, naturally.)  It makes me wonder if he's collecting his mail at the local post office, or do they just drop it off at the bridge abutment like all the other trolls?

Having watched way too many police procedurals on television over the years, I can imagine very easily the following scene: Solemn men and women gather in a courtroom in downtown Chicago, speaking in hushed tones. As the judge enters, the bailiff recites the call to justice that has rung out in this room every weekday for years. But this day is a little different as the gallery comes to order, and attorneys take their places, waiting for the judge to begin the calendar for the day. Several people gather before the bench as the judge and chief clerk confer, and the judge looks up. “Ah, Mr. Simonian, so glad to see you. Again.” A knowing chuckle runs around the room.

As a major player, Cisco faces dozens of patent infringement suits a year. Exact updated figures are hard to come by, but word was that in 2007 Cisco was the target of about 30, enough so that Cisco was one of a handful of organizations who, in 2008, banded together to form the Coalition for Patent Fairness. Indeed, this case wasn’t even the only patent lawsuit Cisco faced in February. On February 9, Cisco was one of 11 IT giants named in a patent infringement suit by TecSec over use of encryption technology. TecSec is famous for previously suing, and getting a settlement from Microsoft. Unlike Simonian, however, TecSec originated the patents for its encryption products, not acquired them.

Cisco, which has more than 5,000 patents and another 10,000 pending, is famous for trying to rally the forces for patent reform – maybe even infamous. In 2008, one of it's lawyers was outed as the writer of the anonymous Patent Troll Tracker blog. Given all the lawyers involved, that situation caused a flurry of defamation lawsuits filed against him and Cisco until as recently as January. Again, while its hard to put a dollar figure on what this costs Cisco annually, with even minor patent infringement cases costing about $1M apiece to defend, according to intellectual property attorneys, we can safely assume defense against patent claims costs Cisco millions. Could that money be put to better use? Without a doubt.

By the way, I called Mr. Simonian's attorney to see if he wanted to say something. I was informed that “Neither Mr. Simonian, nor his counsel will comment on pending litigation.” Fortunately, you can leave a comment here.

If they didn’t have to spend millions defending against patent trolls, how could Cisco put that money toward bettering it's products or supporting it's customers?

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