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Smart card company sues over Palm patent piracy claim

Palm handheld apes E-Pass' 'universal credit card', company claims in IPO week

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3Com has been hit with another patent infringement claim centring on technology used by its Palm Computing subsidiary. US-based E-Pass Technologies this week filed a suit against the comms giant this week alleging it has violated a 1994 patent, number 5,276,311, held by its founder, one Hartmut Hennige (a German-born UK resident) which describes a "multifunction, credit card-sized computer that allows users to securely store a multitude of account numbers, PIN codes, access information and other data from multiple credit cards, check cards, identification cards and similar personal documents". Back in January, it emerged 3Com had asked the US Patent and Trademark Office to re-examine claims made by Xerox that Palm's Graffiti software infringes 'unistroke' character recognition patents owned by the copier giant. Xerox made the allegation back in 1997, but such has been its relatively amicable approach to the case that it has always been open to a settlement. E-Pass may prove less amenable. "Not only do 3Com's products utilise the E-Pass-patented technology, but 3Com advertises, promotes and sells its products with literature that instructs customers on how to use its products in ways described very specifically and in great detail in the 1994 patent," Stephen Weiss, E-Pass' attorney told Bloomberg. It's notable, however, that E-Pass' suit was filed with the New York Federal Court in the very week Palm is to IPO. We wonder why, since Palm has been flogging allegedly patent-transgressing for several years now, it has taken E-Pass so long to figure this out. Are the two events - IPO and lawsuit - related? Surely not - but the timing certainly isn't to 3Com's advantage. E-Pass Technologies specialises in smart card development. The patent in question is about a password-protected device used to store details of multiple credit cards - essentially a single smart card that acts like all your Visa, Mastercard and AmEx cards together. Does that really describe a Palm handheld? Sure the Palm will store credit card numbers, and all its data can be protected with a password, but is does that count as a violation? We think not, but we did attempt to contact Jon Rolfe, E-Pass' UK Director or Technology, about the case but his mobile phone number proved to be no longer in use. Or maybe it's just password protected... ®

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