Firm seeks to bar Nokia, RIM, Palm from importing devices

The U.S. ITC votes to investigate a Texas company's patent complaint against RIM, Nokia, Palm and other companies.

A patent-holding company from Texas is seeking to bar six companies -- including BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, Palm and Nokia -- from importing handheld devices into the U.S. for allegedly violating its patents.

Saxon Innovations, based in Tyler, Texas, filed a complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) on Dec. 19, and on Thursday, the ITC voted to investigate the complaint. If the ITC finds that the complaint is legitimate, it could bar the handheld makers from importing products, such as mobile phones and remote control devices, containing the patented inventions.

At issue are three patents that Saxon purchased in July 2007, a patent for keypad monitor with keypad activity-based activation; a patent for an apparatus and method for disabling interrupt marks in processors or the like; and a patent for a device and method for interprocessor communication by using mailboxes owned by processor devices. Saxon, with five employees, purchased about 180 U.S. patents formerly owned by Advanced Micro Devices or Legerity in 2007, according to its ITC complaint.

The keypad monitor patent was granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in August 1993 to AMD. The interrupt marks patent was granted in June 1996, and the mailbox patent was granted in March 1997, both to AMD.

In recent years, several large tech vendors have pushed the U.S. Congress to make it more difficult for patent holders to file claims. Tech vendors including Microsoft, IBM and Intel have complained that it's too easy for patent-holding companies to win huge patent awards against tech companies with products that may contain dozens of patents.

Saxon didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment on its ITC complaint.

Saxon's complaint alleges that Nokia's N73 mobile phone violates two of the three patents, and its N95 phone violates the third. RIM's BlackBerry 8100 Pearl device violates two of the patents, and Palm's Treo 700p violates two of the patents, according to Saxon's complaint.

Other companies named in the ITC complaint are High Tech Computer of Taiwan and a U.S. subsidiary; Panasonic of Japan and two subsidiaries; and AVC Networks of Japan. The ITC complaint involves so-called Section 337 violations of the U.S. Tariff Act of 1930.

Representatives of Nokia, Panasonic, RIM and Palm weren't immediately available for comment.

In June, Saxon also filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleging that six computer makers, including Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard, have violated two of the patents in the ITC complaint.

The next step in the ITC investigation is for an administration judge to hold a hearing on the complaint. Within 45 days, the ITC will set a target date for completing the investigation.

ITC patent complaints can result in several different outcomes, said Peg O'Laughlin, an ITC spokeswoman. Some complaints are dropped, some settled, but "many, many" result in an ITC ruling barring imports of products, she said.

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