LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage

Last week LightPointe Communications Inc. was granted a patent that could make life difficult for other companies developing optical wireless systems (see LightPointe Wins Patent).

The U.S. patent -- number 6,239,888 -- describes a free-space optical link where light is projected from the end of the fiber into the air using some focusing optics. This means that any signal carried on the fiber is immediately airborne without any electro-optical conversion. LightPointe's patent also specifies an erbium-doped fiber amplifier (EDFA) to boost the power of the signals before sending them through the air.

This basic idea is central to next-generation optical wireless systems integrating seamlessly with fiber optic networks and operating at high speeds, according to Heinz Willebrand, LightPointe's chief technology officer and inventor of the patented device. Most optical wireless systems today operate over a single wavelength in the 850 nanometer region of the spectrum, so they have limited bandwidth, compatibility, and upgradeability, he says.

Willebrand thinks the ramifications of his patent will reverberate through the optical wireless space. "Anybody who wants to build a seamless network will have to talk to us first," he crows.

Although at present LightPointe's patent only covers technology made, sold, or imported into the U.S., the company is planning to extend patent coverage worldwide, says Willebrand.

Two vendors in particular -- U.S.-based Optical Access Inc. and Israeli startup OrAccess Ltd. -- have pinned their hopes to the same star, and could suffer.

"That's devastating news! They beat us to it," said David Medved, Optical Access's CTO, when Light Reading first told him about LightPointe's patent. Medved filed for a broadly similar patent back in September 1998, about five months later than LightPointe.

There's little doubt that OrAccess will also be affected, since its entire branding and marketing strategy is based on the idea of "WDM through the air." The company could not be reached for comment.

What's the scenario for these companies? "That depends on how serious LightPointe is about excluding other companies from the market," says Joseph Gortych, an intellectual property attorney specialising in high technology. "In the worst case, licenses could be extremely expensive or not forthcoming at all. Or LightPointe could chose to set a reasonable license fee that companies won't mind paying."

But after the initial shock has worn off, Optical Access and others will probably go to work to try to break that patent. 24 hours later, Optical Access's Medved appeared more optimistic.

"After a careful review of their patent it seems to me that they missed the main point," he wrote in an email to Light Reading. "All of their claims seem to involve adjustment of EDFA... power levels interactively or auto-alignment of transceivers. It would be interesting to see Willebrand's file wrapper to see whether he initially tried to claim the essential idea or was shot down by the Examiner who may have cited prior art against such claims."

As a little aside, the first patent in this field went to Alexander Graham Bell in 1880. He invented the "photo-phone," which sent voice signals through the air using sunlight.

—Pauline Rigby, Senior Editor, Light Reading, http://www.lightreading.com

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optics5 12/4/2012 | 8:15:08 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage It seems a MRV company does nothing but cry! They always have been..look at Zaffire and now with the Patent!!!

It will be interesting to see who becomes the leader in the Free Space Optics arena...

ANy news on AirFiber?
basil 12/4/2012 | 8:14:53 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage The LightPointe patent shouldn't affect any of the currently deployed 850 nm or 1310 nm systems.

What seems to be novel here is the idea of producing a transparent free-space optical link with an EDFA used to boost the power of 1550 nm optical signals before launching into the air and then another EDFA to amplify the received signal.

What remains to be seen is whether this actually gives an important enough advantage for anyone else to want to license this technology? I doubt the utility of replacing intermediate fibre spans in long haul links, unless the reach is pretty damn impressive! For "last mile" applications, transparent links for Gbps+ data rates are unlikely to be requried. There may be the odd niche application in Metro land, but I prefer the idea of using robots to pull fiber thru sewers.

One nice feature is that the active optics could be kept inside out of the rain with just a passive fibre link to the outside world - just a pitty about the auto positioning mechanism still required on the roof.

Managing the transient response of the EDFA on the receive side could be interesting - especially preventing frying downstream optics when a bird (or helicopter) causes a temporary break in the beam!

ownstock 12/4/2012 | 8:14:49 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage Patents are issued these days if all the paperwork is in order, and it does not appear to be prior art in the eyes of the examiner. Clearly, putting a lens in front of a fiber is not patentable...it is obvious and common practice. Even forming a free space communications link with that idea has been done billions of times before...I would wager every optical engineer with a Newport bench has done it many times. I have not read the patent, but per the LR writeup, it is not worth the paper it is written on...let alone the news analysis...let alone this comment...I am wasting my time writing this...bye...
RMG1 12/4/2012 | 8:14:47 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage The challenge in FSO is not to send the signals farther, but to continue to drive costs down so that the technology remains much cheaper than the alternatives. With over 50% of U.S. office buildings within a mile of a fiber strand, FSO is an alternative to first mile fiber. The buidings that are further than a mile generally aren't big enough to support any optics - fiber or free space. Once you get to the second mile, there is plenty of fiber so FSO does not serve a need here. I am surprised the FSO vendors think people want to pay for EDFAs on access connections.
optics5 12/4/2012 | 8:14:46 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage so you work for Optical Acess huh? cry baby!
optics5 12/4/2012 | 8:14:46 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage It seems you are an expert in FSO. your message put me to sleep!!!

brandonjlarson 12/4/2012 | 8:14:38 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage News about AirFiber is that theyGÇÖre going down !!! ItGÇÖs just a matter of time before that ship sinks.... incompetence, arrogance and ignorance can really bring a company to its knees.
brandonjlarson 12/4/2012 | 8:14:34 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage I hear their Director of Marketing is next !!!
optics5 12/4/2012 | 8:14:34 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage I agree with you totally..They just lost their VP of Marketing and I have heard wierd things about their second round funding!!!!

SO is Terabeam!! they have a very messed up model also.
RMG1 12/4/2012 | 8:14:32 PM
re: LightPointe Gets a Patent Advantage AirFiber did a $50MM round in April, they would set a world record for cash burn if they were that close to failure.

They don't have the broad enterprise customer base Lightpointe has, but they also do not have a ridiculous business model like Terabeam.
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