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Monday, October 19, 2009, 09:50 am PT (12:50 pm ET)

Apple, others hit with lawsuit over '90s Ethernet patents

A Texas company has targeted Apple and a number of other technology companies in a new lawsuit regarding a handful of computer networking patents issued in the 1990s.

Specifically, the lawsuit from U.S. Ethernet Innovations targets Apple's MacBook Pro, along with hardware from a number of other manufacturers. The complaint was filed in a U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Texas earlier this month.

According to the suit, 3Com Corporation was granted four patents from 1994 to 1998 pertaining to network adapters. Two deal with the automatic initiation of data transmission, and one addresses "host indication optimization."

It is only the fourth patent, entitled "Network Interface with Host Independent Buffer Management," of which Apple is alleged to be in violation. That patent, numbered 5,299,313, was issued in 1994 to 3Com.

"Without a license or permission from USEI, Apple infringed and continues to infringe one or more claims of the '313 Patent, directly, contributorily and/or by inducement, by importing, making, using, offering for sale, and/or selling products and devices which embody the patented invention, including, without limitation, one or more of the Apple Accused Products," the complaint reads.

Not made clear in the suit is the relationship between the patent owner, 3Com, and the complainant, U.S. Ethernet Innovations. While 3Com is a publicly traded company and well-known maker of routers, switches and other networking equipment, U.S. Ethernet Innovations is not as identifiable. The company's Web site states that U.S. Ethernet Innovations was founded "to continue 3Com Corporation's successful licensing program related to a portfolio of foundational patents in Ethernet technology."

A press release from the company states that it is the "owner of the fundamental Ethernet technology developed and sold by 3Com Corporation in the 1990s," suggesting it purchased the patents.

"We strongly believe that 3Com’s Ethernet technologies are being regularly infringed by foreign and some US companies," said David A. Kennedy, Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Ethernet Innovations. "We believe that the continued aggressive enforcement of the fundamental Ethernet technologies developed by 3Com against the waves of cheap, knock-off, foreign manufactured equipment is a necessary step in protecting the competitiveness of this American technology and American companies in general."

In addition to Apple, the lawsuit names Acer, ASUS, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, Hewlett Packard, Sony and Toshiba as defendants. It asks for compensation for the alleged infringement, and requests a trial by jury.