Is 3Com Affiliated with U.S. Ethernet Innovations?

A company called U.S. Ethernet Innovations announced this week that it is pursuing patent litigation against several computer vendors that allegedly infringed on intellectual property originally developed by 3Com Corporation.

Computer companies cited in the lawsuit include Acer, Apple, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, Sony, and Toshiba. The patents at issue relate to 3Com’s Parallel Tasking technology, which expedites interaction between a computer and the network by performing two steps – read-in and transmit-out – simultaneously.

U.S. Ethernet Innovations hints strongly on its website that is affiliated with 3Com, but I’m not sure that’s true. In a Network World story about the patent litigation, U.S. Ethernet Innovations is said to own “the patents spun off from 3Com for the sole purpose of launching these sorts of lawsuits. ”

In its press release announcing the lawsuits, U.S. Ethernet Innovations provides the following boilerplate text:

U.S. Ethernet Innovations was formed to continue 3Com Corporation’s successful licensing program on behalf of its portfolio of foundational patents in Ethernet technology.

Both sentences, the one in Network World and the one in the boilerplate text, are ambiguous. It isn’t clear whether 3Com spun off the patents for the sole purpose of launching lawsuits or whether the litigation-based business model was devised and is being pursued exclusively by U.S. Ethernet Innovations. I suspect the latter, but I’d like confirmation; accordingly, I’ve requested clarification from Network World, from 3Com, and from U.S. Ethernet Innovations.

My assumption is that 3Com sold a patent portfolio to U.S. Ethernet Innovations, and that the latter is pursuing lawsuits against alleged infringers entirely on its own. Again, I’d like that assumption corroborated or explicitly refuted. I like clarity.

Based in Tyler, Texas, U.S. Ethernet Innovations is posing as a staunch defender of American technological honor.

David A. Kennedy, CEO of U.S. Ethernet Innovations, said:

“We strongly believe that 3Com’s Ethernet technologies are being regularly infringed by foreign and some US companies. We believe that the continued aggressive enforcement of the fundamental ethernet technologies developed by 3Com against the waves of cheap, knock-off, foreign manufactured equipment is a necessary step in protecting the competitiveness of this American technology and American companies in general.”

Samuel Johnson said: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” He obviously did not anticipate the altruistic good works of U.S. Ethernet Innovations.

3Com, of course, has an interesting history of its own, which includes a former joint venture (H3C) with Huawei Technologies, a Chinese vendor of telecommunications equipment. Huawei nearly became a minority owner of 3Com, but the acquisition bid led by Bain Capital was scuppered on national-security grounds.

Having bought out Huawei’s interest in the joint venture, 3Com now runs H3C as a separate brand and business unit. It has extensive operations in China, including a large customer base.

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