October 20, 1997 6:40 PM PDT

Rockwell sued over 56-kbps modem technology

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Standards for high-speed 56-kbps modem technology may be further delayed as companies become enmeshed in a new legal battle over who invented the technology.

Rockwell Semiconductor (ROK) responded today to a lawsuit filed in a San Mateo, California, court that accused the company of using proprietary information belonging to independent inventor Brent Townshend, who has patents pending on what is claimed to be basic technology used by most, if not all, 56-kbps modems.

All major modem manufacturers are offering new, high-speed 56-kbps modems that can deliver data at 56 kbps (kilobits per second), or about twice the speed of widely used, older 28.8-kbps modems.

Earlier this year, Townshend signed a deal with 3Com (COMS), a Rockwell competitor, for use of his 56-kbps technology. 3Com has said it intends to sublicense any 56-kbps modem patents issued to Townshend, who is an associate professor at Stanford University and the president of his own company.

"Rockwell believes that the claims made by Brent Townshend in his lawsuit are without merit," said Vijay Parikh, vice president and general manager of Rockwell's Personal Computing division, in a prepared statement. Rockwell says that the lawsuit could delay a universal standard for making 56-kbps modems work together.

Modems using 3Com's U.S. Robotics brand modems with x2 technology don't currently interoperate with modems based on Rockwell and Lucent's K56flex technology, since standards have not yet been set.

Townshend could not be reached for comment.

Further complicating the matter of 56-kbps (also known as PCM) modem standards, Lucent has claimed it already has patents on technology that will be essential to the operation of all 56-kbps modems, and is likely to ask companies for per-unit royalties on 56-kbps modem sales.

Meanwhile, representatives from modem manufacturers and chip companies continue to work on a preliminary or "determined" standard for 56-kbps modems from the International Telecommunications Union.

In meetings held last week, progress was made on getting all the different modem vendors to agree on some technical issues surrounding 56-kbps technology, but intellectual property concerns continue to hinder a final resolution, according to Ken Krechmer, editor of Communications Standards Review.


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