Intermec Technologies Corporation of Everett, Washington is a part of UNOVA, a $1.1 billion industrial and data services company. Founded in 1966, the company invented the first hand-held order-entry terminal in 1969, and two years later the first portable bar code scanner. Over the next few years the company rolled out the first commercially available on-demand bar code label printers and computerized cash registers. The company spent the remainder of the 70’s standardizing the bar code and pioneering the use of portable computers in distribution systems. Intermec continued to develop and improve on barcode systems throughout the 80s while investing in radio-frequency technologies, eventually introducing the first spread spectrum radio frequency data communication technology to be approved by the FCC in 1990.
Over the last decade, the company has introduced a number of wireless products for the business sector. Its work with the 802.11 standard tied into the development of portable Windows CE barcode and RFID scanning units. Today Intermec markets a number of mobile computing products for workers on the floor of commercial facilities. Their wireless LAN technology unites these handhelds with data collection devices (wands, cameras, and scanners) as well as RFID/Barcode printers.
Details of the Suit
In June of 2004, Intermec took legal action against rival Matrics of Rockville, Maryland. Intermec claims it has discovered a number of intellectual property breaches in Matrics products. This is despite the Matrics claims that its products are free of other company’s IP, supported by a review of its EPC Class 0 technology conducted by an independent UCC group.
Intermec claims Matrics’ products infringe on four of Intermec’s patents:
- U.S. Patent No. 6,371,375, a method and apparatus for associating data with a wireless memory device
"A system for storing and retrieving data comprises a memory device, such as a radio frequency tag, having a memory for storing the data, a first identifier stored in the memory, and a machine-readable symbol associated with the memory device. At least a portion of the machine-readable symbol encodes a second identifier logically associable with the first identifier. The machine-readable symbol may be printed on an RF tag, or may be carried by a container that also carries an RF tag. The machine-readable symbol is composed of characters from a machine-readable symbology, and includes a flag character that indicates the existence of a memory device corresponding to the machine-readable symbol. A reader for reading the machine-readable symbol and the memory device conserves power by determining from the flag character whether a memory device is associated with the symbol, prior to operating a memory device reader section of the reader. The reader reads the machine-readable symbol to obtain a symbol identifier, and successively reads each of a number of memory devices to obtain a memory device identifier until a memory device identifier corresponding to the symbol identifier is found. Alternatively, the reader may successively read each of the number of memory devices to obtain each of the memory device identifiers, read the machine-readable symbol to obtain a symbol identifier, and match the symbol identifier to one of the memory device identifiers."
- U.S. Patent No. 5,912,632, a single chip RF tag oscillator circuit synchronized by base station modulation frequency
"A Radio Frequency (RF) transponder (tag), method, and system, whereby the tag has a low current tag oscillator, the oscillation frequency of the tag oscillator set by RF signal from a base station."
- U.S. Patent No. 5,995,019, a method for communicating with RF transponder
"A method of selecting groups of radio frequency RF transponders (tags) for communication between a base station and the tags. The tags are selected into groups according to a physical attribute of the signal sent by the tags to the base station, or according to the physical response of the tags to a physical attribute of the signal sent from the base station to the tags. Communication with the tags is thereby simplified, and the time taken to communicate with the first tag is markedly reduced."
- U.S. Patent No. 5,528,222, a radio-frequency circuit and memory in a thin flexible package
"A novel thin and flexible radio frequency (RF) tag has a semiconductor circuit with logic, memory, and a radio frequency circuits, connected to an antenna with all interconnections placed on a single plane of wiring without crossovers. The elements of the package (substrate, antenna, and laminated covers) are flexible. The elements of the package are all thin. The tag is thin and flexible, enabling a unique range of applications including: RFID tagging of credit cards, passports, admission tickets, and postage stamps."
The suit has come to particular prominence following Symbol’s acquisition of Matrics in a move that may signal industry consolidation. Following the buyout, Matrics announced to EPCglobal its intentions to collect substantial royalties on products compatible with EPC standards.
Intermec defined licensing terms for IP in the second generation EPC specification to a group of EPCglobal representatives. Extending well beyond the four patents cited in the Matrics case, Intermec will make five patents available royalty-free, while nine patents and five pending patents will be licensed for use in a reasonable and nondiscriminatory (RAND) royalty-bearing basis. The terms of the licensing are not gentle: manufacturers using developing second generation EPC microchips would pay a $750,000 advance applied towards a 5% unit sales royalty and 5% on any subsequent sales for the life of the patent. Suppliers of other RFID related products will be subject to similar terms.
While it remains unclear as to whether other organizations will assert claims to technology in the EPC standard, Nanopower’s lawsuit against Matrics indicates that the dust is far from settled. Intermec claims it has relaxed its terms in comparison to earlier standards licensing deals, although watchers fear their aggressive tactics could slow the industry.