I live and work in York, England, the United Kingdom. The first, original and therefore best York in the world; so named from the Vikings, who called the city Yorvik. And as it happens, the Vikings left many marks on today’s civilisation including the short range, personal area network technology we all call Bluetooth. They didn’t invent it (that was Ericsson in 1994) but it was named after King Harald Bluetooth, who united Scandinavia under his rule. The idea behind the Bluetooth radio technology is that it could be used as a communications standard between disparate operating systems and device types, from PDAs (personal digital assistants), cell ‘phones and computers.
Bluetooth is also at the centre of a patent infringement case that has recently been concluded between Samsung and Rembrandt Wireless Technologies, a patent investment company. The case concerns a “system and method of communication using at least two modulation methods” and Rembrandt explained that Samsung selling devices with Bluetooth EDR technology (enhanced data rate) onboard is the infringement. EDR was introduced as an optional part of the Bluetooth 2.0 standard, released just over ten years ago in 2004. EDR increases the data transfer rate to a theoretical 3 Mbit/s (although usually the transfer rate barely exceeds 2 Mbit/s). It is claimed that EDR can can reduce Bluetooth radio power consumption by reducing the duty cycle, but Samsung’s lawyers appeared to claim that this is not necessarily the case. Their attorney, Jeffrey Sherwood, explained that Samsung’s Bluetooth implementation did not meet the of a change in modulation and that Rembrandt did not meet every element of the claim. “That means there is no infringement and there’s no liability.” He continued. When asked about Rembrandt’s $30 million claim he said, “There’s value in features, but they’re just not worth thirty million dollars. EDR didn’t solve customers’ complaints to battery life. It wasn’t the solve all. These patents are not worth $30 million.”
It appears Samsung have been the victim of a patent troll: in a statement, Samsung said that “…(approximately) 24,000 companies believe Bluetooth technology should be shared for free. Obviously, Rembrandt is not a part of that, and they’re taking advantage of that.” The co-counsel for Rembrandt said, “It’s not easy to file a patent case against the biggest electronics company in the world.” It appears that Rembrandt used an expert witness to go through the Bluetooth standard line by line, taking over two hours.
Patents appear to be a necessary evil in mobile technology, and indeed almost every sector. I have to ask if Rembrandt is now going to pursue other companies, big and small, that have been using EDR. And whilst $15.7 million is a lot of money, in the context of Samsung it is a relatively small sum. However, here it is the principle rather than the sum of money involved.