F-R calls E+H's fieldbus-related patent attacks 'total trash'

"There is no Trojan horse, no monopoly, and no trap," states Fisher-Rosemount (F-R) in a Sept. 6 response to recent charges by Endress+Hauser (E+H, Reinach, Switzerland) that implementing the new IEC 61158 and EN 50170 fieldbus standards would infringe on some of F-R's patents.

10/01/2000


"There is no Trojan horse, no monopoly, and no trap," states Fisher-Rosemount (F-R) in a Sept. 6 response to recent charges by Endress+Hauser (E+H, Reinach, Switzerland) that implementing the new IEC 61158 and EN 50170 fieldbus standards would infringe on some of F-R's patents.

F-R says there are no conflicts between its patents and using FOUNDATION fieldbus in products, and that many claims E+H made during an Aug. 22 press conference at ISA Expo/2000 were misleading or untrue. F-R adds that E+H's press release issued at the conference included attachments with crucial information deliberately edited out or completely omitted. E+H has had no additional comment since Aug. 22. [See "Up Front," CE, Sept. '00, p. 2, for E+H press conference article; see "News," CE, April '00, p. 27, and May '00, p. 25, for earlier coverage; and visit www.controleng.com for online versions of these articles and updated coverage as it becomes available.]

In its response, F-R says, "E+H accuses F-R of adopting a 'Trojan horse' strategy to monopolize FOUNDATION fieldbus. It appears their intent is to plant the idea that F-R is luring the entire industry into a trap, and that at some point, we will spring this trap on suppliers, and even on end-users, by launching lawsuits around the world to collect royalties. These accusations are total trash."

To reassure developers there is no Trojan house, that they'll have secure access to FOUNDATION fieldbus technology, and will not be risking infringement, F-R released a policy statement on March 29 ( www.frco.com/fr/news/pr/009_eh-attachment1.pdf ). It states that technology covered by F-R patents that are essential to implementing FOUNDATION fieldbus specifications will either be assigned to FF or offered as a license to FF members in good standing on a royalty-free, non-exclusive, worldwide basis . F-R adds these licenses would be for the life of the patent. F-R also announced that a mutually agreed-upon third party would arbitrate disputes about whether a piece of technology is essential.

Determining applicable patents

F-R says a review by it and outside authorities concluded that three patents—listed as "Field-Mounted Control Unit"—are essential to implementing FOUNDATION fieldbus specifications. They are U.S. patents 5,333,114, 5,485,400, and 5,825,664, which cover control in the field. F-R says these apply to the User-Layer level, which is not included in the IEC standard or CENELEC Euronorm. "Because they can be considered essential to implementing FOUNDATION fieldbus specifications, which are broader than the IEC and CENELEC standards, our policy is that these patents will be licensed, royalty-free, for the life of the patents," F-R states.

"Other patents brought up by E+H relate to generating information sent over a fieldbus, such as diagnostics, or using information that a fieldbus delivers, such as displays or tables. These other patents don't prohibit developers—competitors or customers—from implementing Fieldbus Foundation (Austin, Tex.) specifications or IEC or CENELEC standards. These three define the rules of communication, which are similar to telephone standards that define how voice and data are sent via wires and air. They don't define the words people speak or the e-mails they send. E+H has confused these concepts."

E+H appears concerned that more patents are involved than those described by F-R, and that these might raise infringement issues in the future. For example, some observers say only two patents might be needed to build a FOUNDATION fieldbus-compliant device, but several more might needed to operate it in a particular application.

In its point-by-point response, F-R refuted many claims made by E+H in its Aug. 22 press release. [To read it, visit www.frco.com/fr/news/pr/009_eh.html or www.controleng.com .]

In conclusion, F-R states, "It's clear: If a company wants to make trouble, they can! If a company wants to negotiate in good faith, they can! F-R has always been prepared to negotiate in good faith. We appeal to E+H to end these public attacks. We're concerned about the damage these attacks have caused FF, which has limited human and financial resources." F-R also asked E+H to meet directly to resolve any differences, instead of using public attacks that harm FF and its work, and requested that E+H contribute to FF, so it can refocus and repair the damage that has been done.

For more information, visit www.frco.com , www.endress.com , www.arcweb.com/arcweb/newsmag/automag.htm , or www.controleng.com .



Other E+H concerns

In a recent report on F-R and E+Hs' squabble, Dick Caro, vp, ARC Advisory Group (Dedham, Mass.), stated that E+H is concerned it will have to maintain its FF membership to keep its license, even if future membership conditions adversely affect its interests (

Mr. Caro's report, "Patents Get in the Way of Fieldbus," adds the term of the licensed patents is five years, but is extended to cover the life of the patents for products sold on or before Dec. 31, 2002. The report adds that E+H apparently wouldn't be able to use the licensed patents for products released on or after Jan. 1, 2003.

In addition, Mr. Caro states E+H instruments, which run Profibus PA and FOUNDATION fieldbus protocols, apparently would not be covered by the license when a Profibus PA network is configured by an end-user.



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