Hotel owners large and small are facing lawsuits that accuse their guests and employees of infringing wireless patents every time they use the hotel’s Wi-Fi. Now an industry trade group is asking Congress to pass legislation to stop these patent infringement lawsuits.
Justin Bragiel, general counsel for the Texas Hotel and Lodging Association, testified at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Bragiel said that within the past year, more than 100 Texas hotels have faced lawsuits related to their Wi-Fi access points. The complaints reportedly demanded a $5,000 settlement to avoid a court appearance.
One set of lawsuits claimed that hotel guests were infringing three U.S. patents every time they use “an IEEE 802.11 wireless network that includes a wireless access point (“WAP”) connected to an Ethernet network,” a phrase which describes the Wi-Fi available in most hotels.
The lawsuits were filed by non-practicing entities (or patent trolls), firms that buy patents and then file lawsuits and try to collect settlements from defendants that cannot afford to go to court. One of these firms, Innovative Wireless Solutions LLC, owns patents that were originally held by Nortel Networks. Innovation Wireless filed a slew of complaints against hotels in April and then dismissed them in June without prejudice, meaning that it could file very similar claims in the future.
The lawsuits from Innovation Wireless extended beyond the hotel industry to coffee shops that offer Wi-Fi. According to The Essential Patent Blog, IWS also targeted Starbucks, Dunkin’ Brands, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf LLC. Another non-practicing entity, Innovatio IP, has filed similar lawsuits in Illinois. These lawsuits reportedly target Panera Bread, Caribou Coffee, Marriott, and Best Western.
Wireless access point maker Cisco has taken Innovatio IP to court to ask for a declaratory judgment stating that its access points do not infringe the patents in question. In the end, other manufacturers may step up to fight these lawsuits on behalf of the businesses that buy their equipment.
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