Fancy fone folks filched fast file flinging, filing fumes: Now Essential accused of slurping wireless chip secrets

It's Andy Rubin v Tony Fadell

Android phone maker Essential, which needs stronger sales, also needs a legal defense.

Keyssa, having developed a short-range high-speed wireless communication chip, on Monday sued the handset biz in US federal court in San Francisco, California, claiming theft of trade secrets after being snubbed as a vendor.

The lawsuit puts two well-known tech industry figures at odds: Android creator and Essential founder Andy Rubin and Keyssa backer Tony Fadell, credited perhaps too extravagantly by his benefactor as "inventor of the iPod, iPhone, and founder of Nest."

Keyssa has also attracted investment from contract manufacturer Foxconn, Samsung's venture arm and Intel, among others, based on the premise that there's a need to rapidly transfer large files and media like HD videos between portable devices.

Keyssa's contactless I/O, the company claims, is capable of transferring data at up to 6Gbps. IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi is theoretically capable of transfer rates approaching 7Gbps in the 5GHz band over eight 160 MHz 256-QAM channels, each at 866.7Mbps. In practice, data transfer speeds over Wi-Fi tend to be far less impressive.

The complaint [PDF] describes how Essential and Keyssa collaborated over ten-months to incorporate Keyssa's technology into the Essential Phone. The relationship concluded in November 2016 when Essential told Keyssa it would be using SiBEAM's Snap wireless chip instead of Keyssa's kit, ostensibly for the sake of compatibility with USB 2.0 accessories.

As the two companies had signed a non-disclosure agreement, Essential was required to return relevant material to Keyssa and to not make use of it.

Nonetheless, the complaint contends, "Essential misappropriated Keyssa's trade secrets without attribution or compensation to Keyssa."

Keyssa claims that Essential makes use of its technology in its phone and its 360° camera, which attaches to the phone via magnets and communicates with it wirelessly.

"We commend Essential for bringing to market a product that moves forward the concept of a mobile phone peripheral bus," said Steve Venuti, veep of marketing at Keyssa, in a statement emailed to The Register. "We provided extensive engineering guidance and confidential know-how to help Essential develop the wireless accessory connector used to connect the Essential Phone to accessories such as the Essential 360° Camera. Keyssa has not been compensated for Essential’s use of this guidance and know-how. We are pursuing this action because our attempts to resolve this matter through discussions with Essential have not been successful."

Essential did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ®

Updated to add

In a statement to The Register after this story was published, an Essential spokesperson said: “Essential has created pioneering technology that is not based on any Keyssa knowhow. Their claims have no merit and we will defend ourselves vigorously as we continue to deliver our first products to customers.”


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