Three major electronics companies have been sued by a foundation which claims that their use of Bluetooth wireless technology infringed on patented work at the University of Washington.
The case was filed in U.S. District Court against Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. of Japan, Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea and Nokia Corp. of Finland by the Washington Research Institute, a nonprofit group that seeks commercial uses for patented technology developed at the state's public universities and enforces the patents.
Matsushita, parent company of Panasonic, and Samsung produce a wide range of electronics products, while Nokia is the world's largest manufacturer of cellular telephones.
Bluetooth, distinguished in products by a blinking blue light, involves the use of a radio frequency for wireless exchanges of data between cell phones, computers, headsets and other devices.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and was filed Dec. 21. Reports on it were published Dec. 23 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and on Wednesday by Dow Jones and The Seattle Times.
The court filing followed three years of fruitless informal attempts to resolve the issue, said Michael Lisa, the foundation's principal lawyer.
"We will not refuse reasonable settlements, but if we don't get an offer to do so, we are going to trial," Lisa said, according to the Post-Intelligencer report.
Nokia officials, following longstanding policy, would not comment on the lawsuit early Wednesday. A Samsung representative acknowledged that the lawsuit had been filed but would not comment further. No one answered a telephone call to Matsushita after business hours.
According to the lawsuit, Bluetooth-based computers, cell phones and headsets made by the three companies have violated four patents, including one that was issued for research done in the mid-1990s by Edwin Suominen when he was an undergraduate student at Washington. All four patents are now held by the foundation.
"That's what's unusual about it," John D. Reagh, the foundation's manager of business development and legal affairs, told The Times. "We manage a number of patents for the university, and I can't think of another one where the inventor wasn't a Ph.D."
Any damages that are received will go to the University of Washington with a portion earmarked for Suominen, who is serving as a technical adviser in the case, Reagh said.
Lisa said the three companies could argue that they are not violating the patents, sign a license and begin paying royalties or buy Bluetooth chip sets from Broadcom Corp. of Irvine, Calif., the only chip manufacturer that has licensed the technology.
"We would prefer that the manufacturers of Bluetooth-enabled products license the technology, rather than the chip set makers, because their products sell for more and yield higher profits and royalties," he said, according to the Post-Intelligencer.
The three manufacturers use chip sets made by CSR PLC of Cambridge, England, which has not licensed the disputed technology.
The case is Washington Research Foundation v. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., No. C06-1813.