Wi-Fi hotspots hit with page redirect royalty claim

Patent owner demands cash

US wireless internet service providers have been hit with demands for hefty royalty payments from an intellectual property exploitation company claiming it owns gateway page redirection.

Acacia Technologies last week began sending details of a patent it owns which details the process by which a WISP's servers redirect connected computers' browsers to a login page, Wi-Fi Networking News reports.

The patent in question is 6,226,677, and was acquired by Acacia from LodgeNet. Granted in May 2001, the patent application was originally filed in January 1999, long before the Wi-Fi hotspot business emerged.

Curiously, Nomadix, a company that sells network access control software to WISPs, announced earlier this year that it had been granted a similar patent, number 6,636,894. Nomadix' patent describes "systems and methods for redirecting users having transparent computer access to a network using a gateway device having redirection capability". Acacia's simply talks about "controlled communications over a global computer network".

Essentially, they amount to the same thing, and since Nomadix' version goes back only so far as December 1999, Acacia has the potential to cry 'prior art', should the two firms come to blows.

Acacia's patent simply describes page redirection. Nomadix' patent, which cites a number of other patents but not Acacia's, applies redirection to the specific task of garnering and processing login data in order to decide whether or not the user should be granted access to the Internet.

Many WISPs weren't overly concerned with Nomadix' patent. Plenty use software like the code Nomadix offers, and they expected their own software partners to deal with any claims made by Nomadix. Only those who had developed their own redirect code needed to worry about licensing the technology.

Acacia, however, appears to be targeting WISPs directly. According to WFNN's report, the company is demanding $1000 a year for up to 3500 redirected connections. Beyond that number, each redirected connection will levy a fee of 5-15c.

However, the company claimed the fees need not put any hotspot owners' business at risk. "We think we set the royalties at a low enough level where it shouldn't have any affect on the market," Rob Berman, Acacia's executive VP of business development and general counsel, told WFNN. "These royalties should not affect anybody's business in a negative way."

WISPs have 30 days to respond, he said. After that, anyone found infringing the patent could be liable for a patent violation suit.

However, just as Acacia's patent pre-dates Nomadix' IP, so some WISPs claim to have been doing redirects even earlier, potentially grounds to challenge the validity of both patents. ®

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