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Verizon Sued in Mobile TV Patent Fight

Holding company Speedus Corp. has sued Verizon Wireless for infringement of two patents that deal with the transmission of television services over cellular networks, and it's investigating whether to sue any other carriers.

"We've been assessing our patent portfolio for some time, and it came to our attention that there's likely infringement on the part of Verizon," says Peter Hodge, a spokesman for Speedus. [Ed. note: Any relation to Charlie?]

Speedus filed the suit in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Florida. It alleges that Verizon Wireless's services infringe on U.S. Patent No. 5,949,793, "Transmission of Digital and Analog Signals in the Same Band," which is pretty self-explanatory, and U.S. Patent No. 4,747,160, "Low Power Multi-Function Cellular Television System," which covers certain ways that cellular systems deliver TV signals. The patents date back to 1999 and 1988, respectively.

Other wireless carriers offer TV services on their cellular networks, but the company has a history with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), which invested in and managed a wireless unit of Speedus in 1993.

"At this point we're still in the investigation mode," says Shant Hovnanian, chairman and CEO of Speedus.

When reached for comment on Friday afternoon, Verizon Wireless officials didn't have much to say. "We still haven't seen the suit," said Nancy Stark, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless.

Hovnanian is quick to defend his company as more than a patent troll, noting that Speedus has offered wireless services in the past, including a stint as a wireless ASP in the late 1990s.

"We are a wireless company from the founding of the company, and these patents are home grown, and for that reason it's not like many other patent litigations that are in the marketplace today," Hovnanian says.

These days, Speedus owns and operates a subsidiary called Wibiki, which deals in software designed to make it easier and more secure to gain access to free, public WiFi networks. New York's Bryant Park is testing out a Wibiki-based network, as is a community of users in Portland, Ore. The business model for Wibkiki is based on opt-in ad sales, but the company has yet to announce commercial launch plans. Hovnanian says free little networks within other cities are in the works.

"We can be a major community service for the smaller groups," Hovnanian says.

In addition to its wireless patents, Speedus holds controlling interests in Zargis Medical Corp. and F&B Güdtfood Holdings Inc.

— Carmen Nobel, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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