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Autumn Hearing Set for Intermec, Symbol

The first of five lawsuits between the RFID hardware companies will start with a pretrial hearing in September.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jul 13, 2005Following a nearly year-long spate of lawsuits and countersuits between Intermec Technologies and Symbol Technologies, a pretrial hearing for the first of the suits, levied by Intermec against Symbol in June 2004, will begin Sept. 7 in the U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del. According to Symbol, the suit, which Intermec filed in June 2004, claims products manufactured by RFID hardware maker Matrics infringe on four Intermec patents (see Intermec Sues Matrics). Matrics was purchased by Symbol in July 2004. The first court trial for the suit is scheduled to begin in May 2006.

The Sept. 7 hearing is called a Markman hearing. Such hearings are unique to cases involving patents, do not involve a jury and occur before court trials begin. During a Markman hearing, both parties in the case argue their legal claims for the patents in the suit. The judge then makes a statement of interpretation of the asserted patent claims. Through the judge's interpretation, Markman hearings set the definition of what the patents in question mean and what they do and do not cover.

Symbol's Aaron Bernstein
This hearing can have a significant effect on the outcome of a case, even determining whether the case goes to trial. If the judge's interpretation strongly favors one party in a patent suit, that party might request a summary judgment, in which the party claims, based on the patent definitions, that it is entitled to prevail. Summary judgments usually negate the need for court cases, though the other party can still argue that it has enough evidence to merit a full trial.

"The Markman hearing is likely the most important part of an IP suit," says Pat Reilly, CEO and founder of the Intellectual Property Society "because it will show where the judge is leaning very clearly and is, therefore, the most likely time at which the two parties might decide to settle out of court."

Aaron Bernstein, VP deputy counsel for IP at Symbol Technologies, explains, "It is our position that the four patents in the suit brought by Intermec are not valid, and/or that our products do not infringe them." He says that shortly after Intermec filed this suit, Symbol—which by then had taken ownership of Matrics—contacted Intermec and engaged in business discussions to resolve the issues. However, no resolution was reached.

Intermec declined to comment on any of its current court cases for this story.

In March, Symbol filed a patent-infringement suit against Intermec, claiming the company was infringing on Symbol patents covering Wi-Fi wireless communications technology. At that time, Symbol also stopped supplying bar code laser scan engines to Intermec. (See Symbol Sues Intermec in IP Dispute.)

Days later, Intermec, one of the largest holders of RFID intellectual property, filed two additional suits against Symbol. One suit claimed Symbol infringed six additional Intermec patents, covering wireless networking and software used in handheld and wireless devices. The other suit was in direct response to Symbol's decision to halt supply of its bar code laser scanners; Intermec says Symbol had no legal right to terminate that supply agreement. (See Round 3: Intermec vs. Symbol.) Most recently, Symbol sued Intermec again, claiming the latter was infringing on Symbol patents related to the decoding of bar codes. (See Symbol Files Second Suit.)

No pretrial hearings in relation to these four suits—all of which were filed during March and April—have been announced. However, one of the suits filed by Symbol has a May 2006 court date, as well, so a Markman hearing for that case might be announced in the coming months.
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