Phone firms hit in patent dispute

March 2, 2007

A lawsuit has been filed against three of the world's largest mobile telephone makers over an infringement of patented technology developed at the University of Washington. The companies are also being sued for unspecified damages, writes Jon Marcus.

If the case is successful, Samsung of South Korea, Nokia of Finland and Matsushita of Japan may be blocked from selling their products in the US.

The devices that use the technology to exchange data without the need to use cables include computers, telephones, personal digital assistants and headsets.

Bluetooth wireless technology, which is used in an estimated 1 billion devices, was developed at Washington ten years ago by an undergraduate. The student, Ed Suominen, who signed his patent over to the university, is serving as a technical adviser on the case.

The action has been brought by the Washington Research Foundation, which markets technology developed at the university and at other non-profit research institutions.

It alleges that the high-tech companies infringed on four patents it controls, including one developed by Mr Suominen in 1995.

Washington said it tried for two years to resolve the matter before resorting to court action.

The mobile manufacturers have declined to comment beyond acknowledging the lawsuit. A fourth company, California-based Broadcom, has agreed to pay to license the technology.

If financial damages are awarded, university officials said that Mr Suominen, would receive a portion of them.

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