Three Phone Makers Hit with Bluetooth Suit

Some of the world’s largest makers of mobile devices and telephone handsets—Nokia, Samsung, and Matsushita-owned Panasonic—have been with with a lawsuit from the Washington Research Foundation, alleging the companies use wireless technology developed (and patented) by a University of Washington scientist in 1999. The Washington Research Foundation is responsible for marketing technology and other intellectual property developed at the University of Washington.

According to the suit, UW scientist Edwin Suominen was awarded a technology patent in 1999 for "simplified high-frequency broadband tuner and tuning method." Bluetooth itself was first adopted as a royalty-free standard in 1998 based on work by Ericcson engineer Japp Haartsen and engineers at four other companies in the mid-1990s. So far, challenges to components of Bluetooth technology have been unsuccessful.

The Washington Research Foundation suit primarily targets products containing chips from British manufacturer CSR which are sold or produced in the United States. While CSR doesn’t market its Bluetooth products directly in the United States, it does command over half the worldwide market share for Bluetooth chipsets. One of CSR’s major competitors, Broadcom, was specifically exempted from the suit, since it apparently acquired a license from Washington Research Foundation.

If the suit is successful in establishing a royalty in Bluetooth technology, it may have widespread impacts on the shirt-range wirless communications market; although Bluetooth is just starting to take off in the Unites States, the Bluetooth market in Western Europe is considerably more mature, accounting for 30 to 40 percent of Bluetooth devices sold worldwide.