Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Patents long reach - a story about Bell Labs and its progeny

Something light here combining patents and litigation. Originally appearing in the Wall Street Journal , a history lesson masquerading as a news story illustrating the importance and long reach of patents.

UPDATE: Bell Labs Legend Haunts Courtroom Tech Rivals

By John Letzing

SAN FRANCISCO (Dow Jones) -- When Telcordia Technologies Inc.'s patent- infringement suit against Alcatel-Lucent heads to trial in Delaware this month, the battle will reach across old blood lines.

Both Telcordia and Lucent descend from the legendary Bell Labs, a research organization launched 82 years ago to conceive the innovations that would power a telephone monopoly -- along the way dabbling in disciplines as diverse as psychology and software while pioneering such technologies as the laser, the microwave and fiber optics. That two of Bell Labs' progeny should end up on opposite sides of the same courtroom is not surprising, given its historical patent portfolio's breadth and dispersal, as well as the flourishing contemporary trade in patent litigation.

Bell Labs exists today under the umbrella of Alcatel-Lucent -- though it has been pared from 3,200 researchers in its heyday to a current staff, combined with that of Alcatel's Research & Innovation Labs, of 1,500. It has also considerably narrowed its focus to the immediate needs of its parent company. Meanwhile, Bell Labs' patents and alumni have been scattered across a handful of companies, as Bell Labs' original parent, the old AT&T, was dismantled in 1984 and Lucent spun off a pair of firms two decades later.

While Bell Labs has surrendered powerhouse status, various technology companies have built upon its core inventions, such as the transistor, to build their own successes. But that expansive body of Bell Labs-related research has now emerged as a potent courtroom issue for those companies.

The rest of the article is quite worth reading and can be found here.