Ironically enough, Corvis founder David Huber is one of the inventors listed on the patent, which covers a technology named "WDM optical communication system with remodulators" (Patent 5504609). But here's the lowdown: Though Huber founded both Ciena and Corvis, he did not have a license for 5504609 when he left Ciena to start Corvis.
This patent feud began in July 2000, when Ciena sued Corvis for allegedly infringing on four of its patents, including:
- Patent 5557439 -- expandable wavelength division multiplexed optical communications systems;
- Patent 5784184 -- WDM optical communication systems with remodulators and remodulating channel selectors; and
- Patent 5938309 -- Bit-rate transparent WDM optical communication system with remodulators.
The federal jury's findings on Monday were even more serious because at issue is a system patent rather than a patent on a very specific technology application. Working without an application technology patent could be likened to driving a car with a misaligned front end -- it's uncomfortable, but definitely doable. Working without certain technologies covered by system patents, however, would be like trying to drive a car with no tires.
"The jury has ruled on a patent that affects virtually all of [Corvis's] WDM systems," says Ciena spokesman Glenn Jasper. Corvis did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Now that the jury has reached a verdict, the judge will hear post-trial motions for several months. Following that, unless a settlement is reached beforehand, the trial moves on to the point of deciding what damages will be awarded to Ciena.
Besides being beaten in court, Corvis is also having a rocky week on Wall Street. The company reported a net loss of $47 million, or 12 cents a share, on revenues of $1.5 million for its fiscal first quarter ended March 29, 2003 (see Corvis Posts $47M Q1 Loss).
Corvis's first-quarter revenues were down some 83 percent from its year-ago quarter and the company is expecting even lower revenues during its second fiscal quarter.
The company also confirmed today that it has begun yet another round of layoffs that will take its headcount below 350 over the next few months; and it may even shut down its subsidiary in France. Corvis employed as many as 1,625 people just two years ago.
Despite its troubles, Corvis sits atop the pile of cash it made at the height of the telecom bubble. Its cash and investments totaled $448.6 million as of March 29. Meanwhile, shareholders have watched the company that once had a market capitalization of $36 billion sink to abysmal depths. The company is worth about $301 million today, meaning investors might get more for their buck if Corvis were shut down and sold for parts than if it stayed in business another day.
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading