Fisher-Rosemount, Fieldbus Foundation deny Endress+ Hauser's infringement concerns
New Orleans, La.— Fisher-Rosemount and Fieldbus Foundation leaders vehemently denied on March 29 recent claims by Endress+Hauser that developers using FOUNDATION fieldbus-related portions of the new IEC 61158 standard might infringe on patents held by Fisher-Rosemount. [See also Control Engineering Online 's "Daily News" section for 3/27, 4/10, and later at www.
New Orleans, La.— Fisher-Rosemount and Fieldbus Foundation leaders vehemently denied on March 29 recent claims by Endress+Hauser that developers using FOUNDATION fieldbus-related portions of the new IEC 61158 standard might infringe on patents held by Fisher-Rosemount. [See also Control Engineering Online 's "Daily News" section for 3/27, 4/10, and later at www.controleng.com for more information and updates.]
"Implying that there are obstacles to implementing FOUNDATION fieldbus because of Fisher-Rosemount is totally unfounded. We have no idea why this company is making these statements," said John Berra, senior vp and process group business leader of Fisher-Rosemount's (F-R, Austin, Tex.) parent company, Emerson Electric Co. "The Fieldbus Foundation is very democratic and has a lot of technical volunteers. We don't have an issue here." Mr. Berra spoke at a press conference during the Fieldbus Foundation's (FF, Austin, Tex.) 2000 General Assembly here. Mr. Berra also serves as FF's board chairman.
"In my company's case, one of the first pieces of technology donated was device description language and other technology, which were offered with royalty-free licenses. This is why the claims being made now seem so incredible to us," added Mr. Berra. "So, we're just going to continue what we've been doing. If there is any technology essential to implementing FOUNDATION fieldbus, we will donate it to FF or offer it with royalty-free licenses."
FF officials and members were especially stunned by Endress+Hauser's (E+H, Reinach, Switzerland) statements because E+H is a foundation member with four devices registered as FF compliant, and reportedly didn't bring up any patent concerns during that process.
E+H short on specifics
FF President John Pittman said he asked E+H for specifics about which technologies or devices E+H believes might be potentially vulnerable to infringement, but added that E+H hadn't responded as of March 29. "They say it's the foundation's problem, but my member companies and I haven't found any problem," he said. "No one who might hold a patent on any of this technology has come forward to say they have a patent on it that they want to enforce or protect."
In an April 4 statement, Diether Schaudel, E+H's chief technology officer, says his company's patent engineers haven't been able to clearly identify all relevant patents. He states that all involved manufacturers should "declare bindlingly, in writing, and unequivocally" to the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC, Geneva, Switzerland) and CENELEC which of their granted patents and patent applications obstruct application of the standard in their view. He adds these manufacturers should say which type of license they grant voluntarily; and release those property rights for unlimited use free of charge.
Observers familiar with the long-time IEC 61158 struggle say E+H's actions are mainly sour grapes. They add that supporters of other fieldbus protocols, primarily Profibus, barged in to join IEC 61158 last year when it became obvious they could no longer obstruct it, vote against it, and otherwise fight it through the IEC. However, FF supporters say joining the new standard apparently wasn't enough for supporters of the other protocols, who still appear worried they won't be able to compete with the efficiencies and other benefits delivered by FOUNDATION fieldbus. They add it's almost as if supporters of the older protocols somehow resent FF for not being as narrow-mindedly protective of proprietary interests as those older protocols have been in the past.
FF committed to openness, availability
Mr. Pittman says E+H's claims are particularly puzzling in light of the foundation's democratic format. "Honeywell, Foxboro, Siemens, and others have all made technology donations over the years, but the foundation owns these technologies, and manages them on behalf of all FF members and end-users. This is different than how other organizations relate to proprietary technology," says Mr. Pittman. "To get FF work done, members give us engineering people, who sign statements that anything they develop while working for the foundation is FF property. So, it's truly puzzling that this issue was raised."
Mr. Pittman added there are now 55 devices and 21 communication stacks that have been tested and registered as FF compliant, and 60 more compliant devices are now being developed. "No patent issues have been raised before. We've had no problems. Only one company appears to have a problem, and that same company even has four FF-registered devices that it's exhibiting here at this general assembly. That's why we feel there's no substantive issue here," he added. "E+H is a valued member of the foundation, and we hope it will continue to be one."