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MSOs Take Fight To Rockstar

In another chapter in the patent troll wars, a batch of incumbent MSOs and overbuilders have taken aim at Rockstar Consortium, a company backed by Microsoft,  Apple and others that formed to snap up about 4,000 patents from bankrupt telecom supplier Nortel Networks more than two years ago that relate to networking, communications and Internet technologies.  

The cable group, which includes Charter Communications, WideOpenWest/Knology, Suddenlink Communications, and Cable One, claim that Rockstar “has misused and attempted to obtain exorbitant royalties from licensing the patents it purchased.”

Soon after Rockstar took possession of the Nortel patent portfolio, the consortium “began a patent enforcement campaign by notifying Plaintiffs and others that they infringed large swaths of the patent portfolio now owned by Rockstar,” the MSOs said in the lawsuit (GigaOm has posted a copy of it here).

And they believe cable’s past dealings with Nortel gives them adequate protection from litigation, claiming Nortel and/or its affiliates and predecessors joined the CableLabs DOCSIS pool and granted CableLabs a license to their patents and other intellectual property. They also claim that a handful of those Nortel patents were granted to CableLabs on a royalty-free basis, along with the right to sublicense others, including vendors. The cable operator also claim that Rockstar attempted to extract royalties while also refusing to identify or clarify the entire list of patents within its portfolio that it accused the operators of infringing.

In addition to unspecified damages, the lawsuit,  filed earlier this month with the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, seeks a jury trial and a court order finding that the operators don’t infringe on the patents in question.

The cable guys aren’t the only ones to feel Rockstar’s wrath. Google filed a lawsuit last month against Rockstar that is eerily familiar in that Google believes it and its ecosystem of Android vendors are being unfairly targeted by the consortium.

Patent attacks were poised to cost the media industry nearly $5 billion in 2013, according to this recent Multichannel News cover story  (subscription required) that sheds light on the cable industry’s patent troll dilemma.

To the delight of cable and broadcast interests, the Patent Transparency and Improvement Act of 2013 was introduced last November.