Wi-LAN launches patent suit against Cisco

Having already settled a wireless patent dispute with Redline Communications Inc. over its wideband orthagonal frequency division multiplexing (W-OFDM) technology earlier this year, Calgary-based Wi-LAN Inc. is taking aim at networking big fish, Cisco Systems Inc., claiming Cisco is using Wi-LAN technology in some of its products without a license.

According to Wi-LAN, both Cisco’s Linksys and Aironet product families directly use OFDM technology, which Wi-LAN invented. The company said it believes the use of OFDM in the Cisco devices infringes upon Wi-LAN’s Canadian and U.S. patents, as stated in the suit filed in Canadian federal court in Toronto on Wednesday. Wi-LAN is seeking unspecified punitive damages and compensation for use of its intellectual property (IP), the company said in a statement.

Wi-LAN’s W-OFDM technology is fundamental to IEEE wireless standards 802.11a and 802.11g as well as WiMax wireless broadband equipment, according to Ken Wetherell, vice-president of corporate communications at Wi-LAN.

“We expect to eventually be collecting royalties from all .11a and .11g semiconductor companies,” Wetherell said. The company may sue other vendors if it can’t reach licensing agreements with them, he added.

Wetherell said Wi-LAN made its move against Cisco after settling a suit against Redline Communications, a Markham, Ont.-based vendor of wireless broadband equipment that is developing WiMax gear. The company agreed to pay Wi-LAN royalties on its wireless products.

In terms of the Cisco dispute, Wi-LAN is not looking for a huge punitive award, Wetherell said.

“We’re not trying to slow the market down, we’re not trying to slow down the adoption of this technology, we’re just looking for a reasonable return on our IP,” Wetherell said.

The company is pursuing Cisco in Canada because it finds the legal rules advantageous and it tends to be less expensive to sue in Canada, Wetherell said. This is partly because damage claims tend to be lower here, he said.

“Even if we go a few years on this thing, it won’t cost us more than a few million Canadian dollars,” Wetherell said.

Cisco Canada is keeping mum on the charges. The company sent IT World Canada a statement in which it said Wi-LAN appears to be taking on the entire Wi-Fi space.

“Wi-LAN claims that its patents are related to industry standards and appears to be applying the patents to the WiFi industry as a whole. We will respond as appropriate after reviewing the claims,” the statement read.

No court date has yet been set for the case, which may be tried in either Toronto or Calgary, Wetherell said. The next step is for Cisco to file a response to the complaint, he said.

— With files from IDG News Service

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