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Writs in space: Hughes lawsuit spanners broadband MSN

AOL-friendly pre-emptive strike threatens rollout

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In what looks suspiciously like a blatant pre-emptive strike against Microsoft's forthcoming broadband satellite MSN service, Hughes Network Systems yesterday file suit against Gilat Satellite Networks and its sub Spacenet, claiming patent infringement. Gilat partnered with Microsoft in February in order to "provide the first consumer two-way satellite broadband offering" in the US, wide availability being promised by year end. And in one of those massive coincidences that make this job worthwhile, Hughes Network Systems announced it would be adding two-way broadband satellite services to its DirecPC offering in the US in early Q4. Hughes' satellite DirecPC system has been running since 1996, but its viability hasn't exactly been enhanced by the need for a decent land line return pipe to make it viable. The service already runs alongside Hughes' DirecTV system, and the new two-way system will allow both services to be received on the same antenna. As Hughes' services are already global, there wouldn't seem to be any technical problem to offering two-way outside the US, but as yet no plans for the rollout have been announced. Hughes of course is allied to arch MSN rival AOL, and the grudge match nature of the whole deal is more than a little enhanced by the company's intention to market the new service through "more than 26,000 retail and distribution outlets". The MSN equivalent is meanwhile intended to be offered direct by Microsoft, or through a string of MSN retail outlets across the United States. Got all that? Total war is clearly brewing. According to Hughes, Gilat and Spacenet are making "unlicensed use of Hughes Network Systems' patented adapter card and high-speed Internet access technology". The companies are alleged to be infringing one patent relating to a satellite receiver adapter card for use in a PC, and three relating to technology for delivering data via a high-speed link, such as a satellite, to personal computers. Hughes is asking for an injunction against further infringement and "as an accounting for damages owed to Hughes as a result of the infringement." The statement doesn't mention Microsoft once, but we know what they mean, don't we? Game on... ®

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