3Com patents bite back

Some big names in the computer industry were sued this week by a company claiming that they have infringed on Ethernet-related patents developed by 3Com.

The company is called U.S. Ethernet Innovations, which owns the patents spun off from 3Com for the sole purpose of launching these sorts of lawsuits. Named in the suit are Acer, Apple, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, Sony, and Toshiba.

The patents cover 3Com’s Parallel Tasking technology, which speeds up the interface between a computer and the network by performing two steps – read-in and transmit-out – at the same time. As 3Com describes it, NICs with this technology don’t wait to load an entire data frame into memory before transmitting it. They just start sending as soon as they receive the frames.

3Com successfully sued Realtek Semiconductor last year over the patents. A jury found that Realtek had infringed on 3Com’s patents, and Realtek settled the lawsuit with 3Com for $70 million. As part of the deal, Realtek is now a licensee of the technology. Other licensees include Alcatel-Lucent and its subsidiaries Avaya and Agere Systems, Palm, U.S. Robotics, ADMtek, UTStarcom, VIA Networking Technologies and D-Link.

One thing that’s striking in U.S. Ethernet Innovations’ statement about the lawsuits is the way it implies that the struggle here is one of the U.S. against the rest of the world: “We strongly believe that 3Com’s ethernet technologies are being regularly infringed by foreign and some US companies,” said company CEO David A. Kennedy in the statement. “We believe that the continued aggressive enforcement of the fundamental ethernet technologies developed by 3Com against the waves of cheap, knock-off, foreign manufactured equipment is a necessary step in protecting the competitiveness of this American technology and American companies in general.”

It then goes on to note that Realtek is a Taiwanese company.

Interestingly, 3Com has historically been very close with one non-U.S. company in particular, Huawei. But 3Com bought out Huawei’s stake in their joint venture and has had to go it alone since.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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