There is an expression that states "everything is bigger in Texas," and that goes double for patent lawsuits. A company by the name of Internet Machines MC LLC recently lodged a complaint with the Eastern District of Texas for alleged patent infringement by a number of OEM manufacturers, system builders, and retailers of computers containing PCI Express switching technologies. Specifically, Internet Machines holds US Patent number 7,539,190, a rather generalized patent that covers multicasting in a shared address space wherein data is stored in a buffer and then forwarded to its intended port. The companies being called to court include PLX Technology, Alienware, Dell, Samsung, and others. While the computers that are assembled using PCI Express may well be utilizing switching technology, the fact that Internet Machines is going after system assemblers and retailers– companies that work with computers but do not design and build the motherboards and other components themselves– instead of the standards body that designs and maintains the PCI Express standard that everyone in the industry uses raises a question of integrity on the part of Internet Machines. Are their motives true in defending their patents, or is it the method of operation of a patent troll?
A diagram describing the patent in question
A system builder who wishes to remain anonymous contacted us with further details on the patent case in question. It seems that this patent showdown is not Internet Machines’ first rodeo. They have previously pursued other companies over US Patents 7,421,532 and 7,454,552 which cover switching with transparent and non-transparent ports. The case was settled in 2010, and it seems that Internet Machines (a seemingly no longer operating company) is not satisfied with the settlement. Internet Machines is moving for a jury trial in this latest round of lawsuits and concerns yet another data switching patent for PCI Express that covers multicasting in a shared address space. It widens the net further by including numerous system builders and OEMs that build devices that contain PCI Express technology but do not deal with the PCIe standard directly. How the company has been able to patent aspects of the PCI Express standard is unclear; however, they patent is worded in such an ambiguous way that it could apply to almost anything they wanted it to.
Beyond the ambiguous use of the patent system is the issue of targeting companies that have little control over the PCI Express specification to begin with. Our source worded it best in stating that PCI Express is a standard that everyone uses. The companies targeted by Internet Machines’ recent lawsuit do not manufacture motherboards or control the PCI Express standard. “We build computers, that’s it.” What are your thoughts on the issue? Let us know in the comments below.