SparkFun has announced it is the target of a lawsuit from what its founder says is a "patent troll," arguing the case for infringement of a 1998 patent — by the pcDuino, a device the company hasn't sold since 2017.
"I am a big believer in Open Source Hardware, but I do not believe that the entire patent system is trash," SparkFun founder Nate Seidle writes in a blog post covering the lawsuit. "If SparkFun was infringing on actual IP [Intellectual Property], from a company that was actually building something, I would work very hard to not step on their toes. Al is not building anything. They just want to sit on their beach in Texas."
The cause of Seidle's woes: A Texas-based company called Altair Logix, abbreviated by Seidle to "Al," which has filed a suit claiming that SparkFun is infringing US Patent No. 6289434 — an "apparatus and method of implementing systems on silicon using dynamic-adaptive run-time reconfigurable circuits for processing multiple, independent data and control streams of varying rates," invented by Rupan Roy and assigned to the Cognigine Corporation of Fremont California in 1998.
"I'll start by pointing out that patents are valid for 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed, so 2018, but I’m no patent attorney," Seidle notes. "You are welcome to read all 93 pages of it, but it’s laughable. I don’t know the original authors Rupan Roy or the Cognigine Corporation; perhaps they thought that a 'Media Processing Unit' was really novel in 1998. Today, it’s not."
Altair Logix clearly believes the patent remains valid, but its choice of infringing product — given that almost any processor could arguably infringe on the patent's claims — raises further eyebrows: the pcDuino.
"Wait wait wait. You’re suing us over the pcDuino from 2016? We stopped selling that board in 2017," Seidle says. "It was a neat little single board computer for its time, but why do they pick pcDuino? I suspect it has something to do with Al's previous wins against companies unfortunate enough to use a processor that used the term 'media' in their datasheets."
"We’ve sold 221 units over the entire time we carried the pcDuino. You want to sue us for $500 worth of made-up royalties to use your bogus patent? Sure. Come get it."
Seidle's full write up of the case — and earlier efforts by other outfits he classifies alongside "Al" as "patent trolls" — is available on the SparkFun blog.