RFID patent dispute spills over into barcodes and WiFi

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ntermec Technologies and Symbol Technologies have reportedly become embroiled in a legal battle, alleging that they have infringed on each other's patents. At the heart of the dispute is the technology of RFID (radio frequency identification). Intermec holds key patents regarding RFID's "air interface" and is demanding royalties from other RFID manufacturers for its intellectual property.

The current dispute follows the failure of lengthy talks to resolve the intellectual property issues. Intermec is now suing Symbol, accusing it of infringing its RFID patents. Symbol says it tried to end the dispute through a cross-licencing agreement with Intermec, but was unsuccessful.

Then, in March, Symbol suddenly terminated an agreement to supply Intermec with laser scanning engines for its barcode equipment. It also filed a lawsuit accusing Intermec of infringing some of its wireless communications patents. (Symbol claims to have developed the world's first commercial wireless local area network in 1989, and its technology was the basis for the IEEE 802.11 "WiFi" standard.)

Two weeks later, Intermec hit back with its own lawsuit, accusing Symbol of infringing six Intermec patents related to wireless access, terminal and software technologies. Intermec is seeking damages and an injunction to prohibit further infringement of these patents.

Explaining his company's stand, Todd Hewlin, Symbol's senior vice-president of global products, says: "We have a responsibility to industry and our customers to fight a policy that could potentially be an onerous imposition of one company's intellectual property against the RFID industry. We believe Intermec's RFID position, if allowed to stand, could thwart the overall development and widescale implementation of RFID, which would be detrimental to the industry and all users of advanced data-capture technology."

Hewlin adds that Symbol "supports the RFID standards organization's position that it is critical for the RFID air interface to be royalty-free." Intermec has said that companies will needs its intellectual property to make commercial RFID products, and that it could refuse licences if it sees fit.

For his part, Intermec's president Tom Miller says that "we owe it to our customers, our shareholders and the industry to strongly fend off Symbol's attempt to collect royalties for public domain technology, and to stop Symbol's unlawful use of our patented inventions."

Miller expects the patent dispute to be resolved by negotiation, without involving end-users. "Intermec has no plan to sue end-users over RFID or other patented technologies it controls," he said.

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