Cable Prevails In Patent Case Over DOCSIS

A federal judge has dismissed the claims of patent-licensing firm Rembrandt IP Management relating to the cable industry's DOCSIS cable-modem technology, putting an end to Rembrandt's bid to collect millions of dollars in royalties from the five largest U.S. cable operators.

Judge Gregory Sleet of the U.S. District Court for Delaware last month dismissed Rembrandt's claims for eight patents the firm had alleged pertained to the cable industry's Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification cable-modem standard, after Rembrandt signed an agreement to not seek patent royalties on any DOCSIS-based products.

In 2005 and 2006, Rembrandt had sued Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications and Cablevision Systems, alleging the MSOs infringed eight patents purportedly pertaining to DOCSIS. The cable operators in turn requested indemnification from their suppliers, leading six manufacturers — Cisco Systems, Motorola, Arris, Thomson, Ambit Microsystems (now called Ubee Interactive) and Netgear — to countersue Rembrandt and seek a judgment that their products don't infringe the patents in question.

In a statement, Comcast said, “We are pleased that the court rejected Rembrandt's claims and imposed appropriate conditions on their dismissal. We have maintained that Rembrandt's claims had no merit, and the court affirmed our position.” For its part Time Warner Cable said, “We're pleased with the ruling.”

Cisco, commenting on the ruling, said, “We are gratified that after four years of Rembrandt's litigation, the court has dismissed all of Rembrandt's infringement claims against us, and Rembrandt has agreed to never again sue us or our customers on these patents for products which comply with the existing industry standards.”

Cisco added, “We continue to believe that Rembrandt abused the legal system by filing this industry-wide patent litigation on patents that had nothing to do with our technology” and said that it “will be pursuing Rembrandt to recover our fees and costs.”

Details of Sleet's Oct. 23 ruling were reported by Bloomberg News. “This is the poster boy for sending a message to people that you can't bring cases that have no merit,” the defendants' lawyer, Steven Cherny, told the judge during an Oct. 1 conference, according to a court transcript cited by Bloomberg. A jury trial in the cases had been scheduled to begin Jan. 11 in the Delaware federal court.

Rembrandt executives did not respond to requests for comment.

The suburban Philadelphia firm has acquired more than 200 patents and seeks to collect money from licensing agreements or patent-infringement verdicts — a type of business derogatorily referred to as a “patent troll.” According to its Web site, Rembrandt offers “supreme service and ample funding to pursue exploitation and licensing of intellectual property for companies and inventors.”

In a separate series of actions, Rembrandt sued ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and Sharp Electronics, alleging they infringe on a patent Rembrandt owns related to the Advanced Television Systems Committee's digital-TV spec. That litigation is still pending.

In December 2004, Rembrandt paid a reported $1 million for the patent portfolio of communications-equipment maker Paradyne that included the ATSC-related patent as well as the eight at the heart of the cable-modem litigation. Paradyne, once owned by AT&T, is now part of Zhone Technologies.