ComputerWorld had an interesting write-up the other day about a lawsuit that was quietly announced the Monday everyone returned from their holiday break (January 5). Apparently a little, patent holding company called Saxon Innovations is seeking to bar five technology vendors including Nokia Corp., Palm Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) from importing handheld devices into the U.S., for allegedly violating patents it owns.
The actual complaint by the Tyler, Texas-based company was filed with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on Dec. 19, and the ITC just announced that it had voted to investigate. If the ITC finds that Saxon's claims are legitimate, it could bar the handheld makers from importing products that contain the patented technologies. For Palm, it would impact the Treo 700p.
Sounds a bit reminiscent of the NTP lawsuit from November 2006 which ended up with a U.S. court judge granting a stay
in March of 2007 while also granting Palm's motion to strike the portion of NTP's complaint alleging misbehavior at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
So what do we know about Saxon Innovations?
Per the company's marketing materials:
"Saxon Innovations is a leading intellectual property licensing company that enables innovative technologies. The company serves a wide variety of growing technologies including networking, wireless and wired voice and data communications, computers, data storage devices, entertainment and gaming systems and other consumer electronics. The current Saxon Innovations patent portfolio is comprised of over 180 U.S. patents covering technology that originated from AMD and its spin off Legerity. Saxon Innovations plans to grow its patent portfolio through innovation and continued strategic acquisitions."
Currently, Saxon has a total of eight patents employed in three separate enforcement actions against sixteen defendants in the U.S. District Courts.
Saxon's Senior Vice President of Licensing, Anthony Grillo, seems to be the one driving this. He joined Saxon in January of 2008. At the time of his hiring, the chairman of Saxon Innovations, Bill Marino remarked, "We are delighted to have Anthony join Saxon Innovations. He brings to the company a well established track record of monetizing innovations, and his experience will be useful in identifying other potential acquisition opportunities." In one of his previous positions, as the Vice President of Intellectual Property for Agere Systems, Grillo led a team that generated $140 million in annual revenue from the company's patent portfolio.
According to the ComputerWorld story, Saxon has five employees. That pretty much means that if he has anywhere near the success he had at Agere, the revenue per employee would be quite significant in these tough economic times.
But let's examine this from the standpoint of the handheld makers that were named. Saxon's complaint to the ITC alleges that Nokia's N73 mobile phone violates two of the three patents and that the vendor's N95 phone infringes on the third. RIM's BlackBerry Pearl 8100 device and Palm's Treo 700p also infringe on two of the patents. The patents are three that Saxon obtained from AMD in July 2007:
- One for a keypad monitor that can be activated via external clock signals (Granted August 1993).
- One for an apparatus that can disable so-called interrupt masks within processors (Granted June 1996).
- One for a device and methodology for supporting communications between the different processors in a multiprocessor architecture (Granted March 1997).
Please read the article by ComputerWorld's Grant Gross, which goes into much more detail.
In light of Palm's focus in the months ahead, Saxon has to be considered an annoying ankle-biter. Plus, a stoppage of the Treo 700p would not be the end of the world. But it does draw attention to the fact that companies like NTP and Saxon are out trolling for patent portfolio-related booty. And the lesson to the wise is to make sure "how you do, what you do," is well documented.
Note: Thanks to TreoCentral reader Maurel for letting us know about this article!