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Friday, November 02, 2007, 03:00 pm PT (06:00 pm ET)

Canadian firm's patent suit targets Apple's use of Wi-Fi

Ottawa, Canada-based telecoms licenser Wi-LAN has filed a complaint in the US which charges Apple, other top-tier electronics makers, and even large retail chains with infringing on patents that it claims form the basis of Wi-Fi networking.

Submitted to court earlier this week in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas — a region historically friendly to patent owners — the lawsuit accuses 14 distinct companies and their sub-divisions of violating patents from 1994 and 2002 which cover the use of multiplexing to exchange data between transceivers, piecing together multiple transmissions to form a single stream of information.

Wi-Fi regularly uses this technology to transfer information across a wireless network, according to the complaint.

By creating, selling, or simply using Wi-Fi chipsets that allegedly use the technology, the targeted companies are treading on the patent, Wi-LAN's representing firm McKool Smith said. Companies named in the suit range from those designing the chipsets, such as Broadcom and Intel, to those that carry the end products in their stores, such as Best Buy and Circuit City.

Apple is named in the complaint as its Macs and handhelds use one or more wireless chipsets from those original manufacturers, but is not alone in its category: several major computer builders including Dell, HP, and Toshiba are also named as guilty of infringement by assembling computers using the reportedly offending technology. All the companies knew of the patents but chose to develop or sell the hardware regardless, the plaintiff claims.

The lawsuit not only demands a jury trial and damages in the event of a Wi-LAN victory, but also asks for a permanent injunction barring the defendants from any activity that would violate the patent. Effectively, it seeks to bar the production or sale of many Wi-Fi-capable devices.

Reflecting its typical company policy regarding lawsuits, Apple has so far chosen not to comment on the new filing.