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Court Upholds Sprint's Victory in Old Patent Spat With TWC

Jeff Baumgartner
12/3/2018
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Charter Communications closed its acquisition of Time Warner Cable more than two years ago, and it's still paying.

A US appeals court Friday upheld a $139.8 million jury verdict against Time Warner Cable in a VoIP-related patent battle with Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) that kicked off in 2011. This week's decision was handed down more than a year after a Kansas District Court ruled that TWC had infringed on a handful of Sprint patents: 6,633,561 and 6,463,052 (Method, system and apparatus for telecommunications control); and 6,473,429, 6,298,064, and 6,343,084 (Broadband telecommunications system).

A portion of TWC's appeal was based on an argument that the district court improperly permitted Sprint to introduce evidence related to a jury verdict in an earlier, related case brought by Sprint against Vonage Holdings Corp. (NYSE: VG).

TWC contended that the admission of evidence related to the Vonage case warranted the granting of a new trial. TWC also fought the district court jury's decision to assess damages of $1.37 per VoIP sub per month, but the appeals court found that the award was appropriate based in part by the earlier Vonage verdict and testimony from Sprint about the costs associated with TWC's decision to operate its VoIP system itself rather than via the previous contract it had with Sprint.

Charter Communications Inc. , which inherited this mess from the TWC acquisition, declined to comment on the appeals court decision.

And so goes Sprint's topsy-turvy relationship with the cable industry.

Sprint, once a key VoIP services partner to several cable operators and also tied into the old (and long dead) Pivot mobile service joint venture, has had some success with its targeting of cable operators with lawsuits centered on VoIP-related patents. (See MSOs Pivoting Away From Sprint JV.)

In January, Sprint and Cox Communications Inc. settled an outstanding patent suit and also struck up a multi-year deal in which Cox's networks will help to accelerate the "densification" of Sprint's wireless network and provide backhaul for Sprint's macro and small cell deployments. (See Sprint, Cox Go From Patent Suit to Partnership.)

That announced agreement also includes a vague note about how it will also "increase and strengthen other business ties between the two companies," but made no mention, for example, if that might mean Cox would have an option to forge an MVNO deal. Notably, Cox declined to move ahead with an MVNO deal it could have pursued with Verizon Wireless after the cable op sold its Advanced Wireless Services spectrum to Verizon in 2011. (See VZ Wireless Nabs Cox's AWS Spectrum for $315M.)

Sprint and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) settled a similar patent lawsuit last fall, and another between Sprint and Cable One Inc. was dismissed in late 2019. Sprint, which is in the process of merging with T-Mobile US Inc. , still has a lawsuit active against Mediacom involving more than a dozen patents, and has also taken aim at WideOpenWest Holdings LLC (WOW) , Atlantic Broadband and TPG Global, a private investment firm that owns Wave Broadband , RCN Corp. and Grande Communications .

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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