Symbol Files Second Suit

By Jonathan Collins

In the continuing legal battle with Intermec Technologies, Symbol claims that Intermec is infringing on Symbol patents related to the decoding of bar codes.

  • TAGS

Escalating the bitter legal standoff between the two companies, bar code equipment giant Symbol Technologies has launched the fourth installment in a series of patent suits and countersuits between itself and Intermec Technologies, the Everett, Wash., company that is one of the largest holders of RFID intellectual property.

After Intermec filed a patent-infringement lawsuit against RFID systems developer Matrics (see Intermec Sues Matrics) in June 2004, Symbol acquired Matrics. Subsequent to that acquisition, Symbol held talks with Intermec regarding the cross-licensing of patents in a bid to resolve the case and halt Intermec's plans to collect royalties on technology used in the air interface between passive RFID tags and readers. When those negotiations failed to resolve the dispute, the companies embarked on a series of patent-related lawsuits.

Symbol's Bernstein

The latest suit focuses on patents for decoding RSS-14 Stacked bar codes (commonly used for items that are too small for a traditional bar code) and for decoding PDF417 two-dimensional bar codes. According to Symbol, Intermec is infringing Symbol patents across a range of scanners and scanning methods, including laser, imaging and micro electro-mechanical system (MEMS) technology, as well as in a variety of bar code scanning devices such as mobile computing terminals and handheld scanners.

"We prefer not to litigate, but we have been working to understand what Symbol IP Intermec is making use of, and with bar code decoding IP, we felt we had to act," says Aaron Bernstein, VP deputy counsel IP at Symbol Technologies. In the new suit, Symbol is seeking a permanent injunction precluding Intermec's use of Symbol's patented technologies and monetary damages for Intermec's prior use of the technologies.

Intermec maintains that it is not surprised by the latest suit.

"During negotiations with Symbol earlier this year, we saw everything Symbol had in the way of patent-infringement claims against us, and we showed them everything we have in the way of patent-infringement claims against them. We have the entire picture. We remain confident that we have the substantially superior position. We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate our technology leadership in the courts," Tom Miller, president of Intermec, said in a statement.

In March, Symbol filed a lawsuit accusing Intermec of using Symbol patented Wi-Fi communications technology in mobile computers. At the same time, Symbol also terminated sales of its laser scan engines to Intermec, which had embedded the engines in its bar code scanning equipment for a number of years (see Symbol Sues Intermec in IP Dispute). Intermec quickly launched its own suit, claiming that Symbol was infringing six Intermec patents covering wireless networking and software used in handheld and wireless devices and a countersuit claiming that Symbol had no legal right to terminate its supply agreement (see Round 3: Intermec vs. Symbol).

The latest suit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisc., where Matrics is registered to do business and where Symbol says patent trials typically come to court in 10 months-significantly quicker than in Delaware, where the earlier suits between the two companies have been filed. Of the earlier legal actions, only the suit filed in June 2004 by Intermec against Matrics has been given a trial date: May 2006.

Both companies maintain that their ongoing legal disputes do not impair their ability to support their customers in any way. Intermec, which lost Symbol as a supplier of the laser scan engines it embeds in its bar code scanning equipment, has stressed that because it had stockpiled Symbol engines, arranged for alternative suppliers and is developing its own laser scan engine technology, Symbol's action will have no effect on its operations.