January 3, 2013
According to a lawsuit filed earlier this week, that’s what happened in the case of Sprint’s 4G wireless networks.
The complaint, filed on Monday, alleges that Sprint is infringing on the patent of Mobile Telecommunications Technologies, LLC (MTEL).
MTEL describes itself in the complaint as “the holder of a portfolio of patents formerly held by Mobile Telecommunication Technologies Corp. (MTEL Corp.) and its related entities, such as Destineer and SkyTel Communications.”
The patent that Sprint is allegedly infringing is U.S. Patent No. 5,590,403, titled “Method and System for Efficiently Providing Two Way Communication Between a Central Network and Mobile Unit.”
Admittedly, I’m far from an expert in these types of things, but from what I can make out, the patent covers an information transmission method through simultaneous signals through multiple transmitters to multiple antennae on an individual device “to provide broad communication capability over a region of space.”
The apparent purpose of this is to provide more consistent transmissions and higher signal quality.
And according to MTEL, Sprint’s 4G WiMAX and LTE networks infringe on MTEL’s patent because those two networks also utilize “multiple input, multiple output” (MIMO) technology.
If these allegations are true, this affects not only Sprint, but every other major wireless carrier in the U.S., since they all use virtually the same technology.
That would be a big deal, right? So why aren’t you hearing about this lawsuit from any major news outlets?
Well, possibly because MTEL seems to be more engaged in suing major companies for patent infringement than actually doing anything in the telecommunications field.
I think there’s a word for a non-practicing entity that buys up large patent portfolios for the sole purpose of suing other companies. Oh yeah: patent troll.
The complaint itself doesn’t actually state that MTEL does anything actively in the market, only that it is “the holder of a portfolio of patents.”
Deceptively, the complaint, under its description of the parties, states that “MTEL Corp. was a pioneer in wireless communications and is credited with launching the world’s first two-way wireless paging service, dubbed SkyTel 2-Way.”
However, “MTEL Corp.” is a separate and distinct entity from MTEL; the only relation between the two is that part of MTEL’s current “portfolio of patents” was originally held by MTEL Corp; never again is “MTEL Corp.” referenced in the complaint.
Nevertheless, the fact that MTEL may be a patent troll doesn’t make the lawsuit illegitimate per se; it’s still possible that the complaint alleges valid claims of patent infringement.
But it’s highly unlikely that MTEL was able to acquire such a patent as the one at issue in this case if it were truly as valuable as the complaint alleges, since it would have been heavily sought after by companies with much greater market clout and much deeper pockets.
Still, we don’t really know how this lawsuit will turn out, but we can watch how a different lawsuit by MTEL against Clearwire Corporation, of which Sprint owns a 50.8% share, turns out; that lawsuit was filed on May of 2012, and the complaint is nearly identical to the one here (currently set for trial in January 2014).
In the meantime, none of you Sprint 4G users out there should be terribly concerned that your service will disappear.