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[UPDATE]BT Rumored to be Suing 14 Mobile Giants Over Basic Patent

By - Source: Priorsmart | B 14 comments

British Telecom is known to be aggressively enforcing its patent base. It appears that the company's lawyers may have found an old patent that, if validated, could mean trouble for cell phone makers and cellular network carriers.

The 14 lawsuits have not been filed by British Telecom (BT) directly, but by Steelhead Licensing, LLC, on January 4, 2013. While the filed complaints state that Steelhead is incorporated as a limited liability company with headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, the business records archive of Delaware does not include Steelhead as an entity with an awarded business license, which is a sign that Steelhead Licensing was founded very recently.

However, since the patent assignment database of the USPTO does not list the patent at the center of the lawsuits as transferred to Steelhead, there is now speculation that BT may have established Steelhead as an entity to monetize some of its patents. BT did not return our calls to clarify whether the company is still in possession of the patent or not and whether Steelhead is related to BT or not. The lawsuits claim that "Steelhead owns all rights of recovery under the [5,491,834] patent, including the exclusive right to recover for past infringement."

This particular case goes to the very basics of cell phone functionality and is reminiscent of BT's lawsuit against Prodigy in 2000, in which the carrier claimed patent right to the hyperlink in web documents.

This time, BT says that it owns the rights to a cellular technology that can evaluate the signal strength at a mobile device received from a base station of "cells" and a technology to initiate a handover from one cell to another. According to the lawsuits, current 3G and 4G networks and devices that take advantage of this technology infringe upon the patent. The wave of lawsuits targets Apple, AT&T, Deutsche Telekom (parent of T-Mobile USA) HTC, Kyocera, LG, Metro PCS, Motorola, NEC Casio, Pantech, Research in Motion, Sprint Nextel, Verizon, and ZTE.

In its request for trial, Steelhead asks for an award of damages for "past infringement and any continuing and/or future infringement up until the date that [the defendants are] finally and permanently enjoined from further infringement, including compensatory damages", in addition to compensation for Steelhead's legal fees. The patent in question was awarded to BT in 1996.

[UPDATE] BT has reached out to us to clarify the situation. A rep for the company stated, "BT sold all of its rights to the patents last year. We have no involvement in Steelhead Licensing LLC’s litigation activity."

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  • 4 Hide
    abbadon_34 , January 15, 2013 7:07 AM
    Thanks Apple
  • -3 Hide
    doive1231 , January 15, 2013 7:49 AM
    I always knew I should have bought BT shares.
  • 4 Hide
    Anonymous , January 15, 2013 7:56 AM
    1996, a whole industry 17 years later, if it is validated, it will be FRAND!
  • 2 Hide
    weaselman , January 15, 2013 10:18 AM
    The way of the world today, Got loads of money how do we make some more !
    what we will do is patent a technology, software. Then not in force it. Then other company`s will start to adopt it, and use it. Then 17 years later we will file a lawsuit saying it`s patent infringement. And make ten times the amount of money by suing people. The tolls are at it again.
  • 2 Hide
    CrArC , January 15, 2013 10:48 AM
    weaselmanThe way of the world today, Got loads of money how do we make some more !what we will do is patent a technology, software. Then not in force it. Then other company`s will start to adopt it, and use it. Then 17 years later we will file a lawsuit saying it`s patent infringement. And make ten times the amount of money by suing people. The tolls are at it again.
    I think that's the idea of FRAND and other patent laws though- the gist being, if it's your patent you're obligated to protect it (or lose it) and if it's widely used/critical to an industry you're obligated to license it fairly.
  • 1 Hide
    davewolfgang , January 15, 2013 10:57 AM
    Just read the update - so it IS a Patent TROLL company that going to try this. These "patents" should've expired a long time ago - especially if they got sold. Isn't it suppose to 10 years on a patent?
  • 1 Hide
    yarmock , January 15, 2013 3:34 PM
    The patent trolls who file these common sense suits should be fined 100 million dollars if their case is thrown out.
  • 1 Hide
    yarmock , January 15, 2013 3:35 PM
    And all these cases should be thrown out
  • 1 Hide
    SirGCal , January 15, 2013 4:15 PM
    The whole patent system REALLY needs to be entirely redesigned for today's world and unique situations that were never forseen before the technological age. And honestly, they have to stop giving out so many for every little thing and way to do something differently. Everyone who comes up with an idea for something, say a cell phone, every person is going to want that and if they can't get it, the idea will fail. It only works if the public adopts it. If they can't get it or it's limited too much by this rule or that regulation, then it isn't going to succeed. Make the ideas open and let all of the companies compete to make the 'better' version I say. Other companies are going to find a way to make your idea anyhow if it's worth making. Might as well have the competition there to push everyone at the same time to do the best job possible for the world.

    Heck, right now it's almost like companies are trying to patent the word 'The' for example. Then 'Company X, Y and Z use the word 'The' in articles, advertising and tools and I WANT MY MONEY!'. It's beyond ridiculous. And these patent farming companies need to basically immediately made ILLEGAL and now. To hold a patent of any type validly, you need to actively make a product using the patent or it should be no longer valid. Period.

    That's what I think anyhow...
  • 2 Hide
    bllue , January 15, 2013 4:38 PM
    This is why TECH patents should only last a maximum of 5 years.
  • 1 Hide
    noob2222 , January 15, 2013 5:25 PM
    pretty sure most patents are valid for 14 years.

    Steelhead looks like a company formed just for one reason. They can file bankrupcy when their Business model fails miserably for buying expire patents and trying to sue for them.
  • 1 Hide
    onichikun , January 15, 2013 5:51 PM
    Yep another lawsuit consumers get to pay for ;)  Wonderful
  • 1 Hide
    QEFX , January 16, 2013 12:46 AM
    Explain to me again why we can't just start castrating patent trolls?
  • 0 Hide
    shriganesh , January 16, 2013 7:25 AM
    @moricon
    I hope you are right!
    I hope the judge also punishes Steelhead LLC.
    Again one important company missing here is Samsung! What happened to them?