CableLabs in Middle Of DOCSIS Lawsuit


There's something unpleasant floating in the
DOCSIS-licensing pool.

A complicated legal tiff between two hotly competitive
data-equipment manufacturers -- Cisco Systems Inc. and Bay Networks Inc. -- resulted in
Bay flexing its muscles as a member of the Cable Television Laboratories Inc.-governed
intellectual-property pool for cable-modem standards.

Karl May, vice president and general manager of Bay's
broadband-technology division, wrote a letter to MSOs last Thursday, explaining "a
situation that could potentially have a negative and widespread effect on the cable and
networking industries."

He was referring to a patent-infringement lawsuit that
Cisco filed against Lucent Technologies, in which Cisco claimed that Lucent stepped on
five data-networking patents. The Cisco suit had been filed as a countersuit to a Lucent
action against Cisco, which claimed eight different patent infringements.

Bay, which is being acquired by Nortel, is involved because
the Cisco lawsuit claims that some of Lucent's products -- made on an OEM
(original-equipment-manufacturer) basis by Nortel -- are also in violation of the patents.
Lucent, in turn, is seeking indemnity from Bay.

Bay, as a member of the DOCSIS (Data Over Cable
Service/Interoperability Specification) pool for intellectual-property rights, countered
Cisco by alerting CableLabs that it opposed Cisco's entry into the DOCSIS pool.

"If Cisco drops its patent claims against Bay
Networks' products, we will withdraw the objection to Cisco becoming a DOCSIS
sublicensee," May wrote to MSOs.

Dorothy Raymond, chief legal council for CableLabs,
explained that as part of the DOCSIS intellectual-property pool, existing members have 10
days to reject any new entrant. She confirmed that Cisco recently asked to enter the
DOCSIS licensing pool, and that grounds for objections include any lawsuits relating to
patent infringement, among others.

"This puts CableLabs in the middle ... yet I am ever
hopeful that these people can just get along," Raymond said.

Cisco executives were not available for comment at press

Raymond did say that Cisco can ask any other members of the
DOCSIS intellectual-property pool for a sublicense of the DOCSIS technologies.

"The pool is not exclusive," she said. "It
was designed to be a convenience."

If Cisco is blocked from joining the pool, it can still
become a DOCSIS licensee, but it would likely have to pay a fee to the manufacturer from
which it sublicenses. Being a member of the DOCSIS licensing pool, on the other hand,
guarantees free licenses.

May wrote MSOs that Bay "regrets having to take these
steps ... However, we believe that they are entirely necessary in order to maintain the
licensers' vision that in exchange for their valuable contributions to the DOCSIS
specification, they will have an opportunity to compete fairly and equitably in this
exciting and promising growth industry."