Schneider sues Opto 22

Chicago, Ill.—Wherever two or more gathered during National Manufacturing Week 2001, March 5-8, their discussion involved patents. As reported in Control Engineering, Feb. '01, p. 32, Schneider Electric Automation (North Andover, Mass.) followed news about its minority investment in Entivity by announcing an open auction on the web for its patent, "Device for Communicating Real-time Dat...

01/01/1970


Chicago, Ill. —Wherever two or more gathered during National Manufacturing Week 2001, March 5-8, their discussion involved patents.

As reported in Control Engineering , Feb. '01, p. 32, Schneider Electric Automation (North Andover, Mass.) followed news about its minority investment in Entivity by announcing an open auction on the web for its patent, "Device for Communicating Real-time Data Between a ProgrammableLogic Controller and a Program Operating in a Central Controller." Among other things, this patent includes using OPC to fill a spreadsheet with data from a PLC. [As of March 15, only one bidder was recorded—an $8 million contingency bid. Some interpret the relative silence as support against enforcement of the patent.]

Litigation

Topping this announcement, Schneider filed a patent infringement lawsuit Feb. 26 against Opto 22 (Temecula, Calif.). The lawsuit alleges that Opto 22's Ethernet Brain products and associated industrial automation systems infringe on Schneider Electric patents concerning web and network-accessed controllers. See Control Engineering Online 's Daily News desk archive for March 1 at www.controleng.com.

At the time, Opto 22 vice president Bob Sheffres stated, "We feel the charges are with out merit and will defend ourselves vigorously in this matter."

Rather than getting sympathy as a technological leader whose products are being unfairly duplicated, Schneider Electric's announcements seemed to meet universal antipathy at NMW 2001. Control Engineering editors traveled the show talking with exhibitors and attendees without hearing any supporting comments for the plaintiff. Added to this, discussion on the Automation List has been peppered with suggestions for Opto 22's defense.

Ironically, Ken Crater's company, Control.com (Westborough, Mass.), sponsors the Automation List. Mr. Crater is the original patent holder for one of the patents involved in the Opto 22 suit. He has also been an industry visionary on Internet and web applications. He is also a leading proponent of the Puffin PLC project, an effort to develop an "open source" controller modeled after the success of other open source software like Linux.

In defense of offense

On March 13, Mr. Crater finally posted a message on the list defending his patent as the only way a small company can compete with the major players. He expands, "Not having $1.5 million (not counting appeals) to pursue a patent suit, a small company develops plan B, and opens discussions with a couple of major companies regarding outright sale of the patent. After a long negotiation process, this produces an agreement with Schneider Automation and the small company receives a large sum of money, along with rights to use other Schneider Automation networking patents."

Addressing "obvious and pervasive" arguments against the patent, Mr. Crater adds, "Complaints of 'obviousness' always occur after the fact, because every idea that comes into widespread use may seem 'obvious' to those who are using it, since it has been integrated into their experience."

The other part of the patent story is that Schneider, which is an active member of the OPC Foundation helping develop OPC as an industry standard, announces after the work is done that it holds a patent for certain uses of OPC. There has been no official public response from the OPC Foundation, yet, but several sources indicated ongoing negotiations.

Meanwhile, engineers in the field, trying to keep their plants running, are left wondering what will happen with useful technologies they have been using.





No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Intelligent, efficient PLC programming: Cost-saving programming languages are available now; Automation system upgrades; Help from the cloud; Improving flow control; System integration tips
Smarter machines require smarter systems; Fixing PID, part 3; Process safety; Hardware and software integration; Legalities: Integrated lean project delivery
Choosing controllers: PLCs, PACs, IPCs, DCS? What's best for your application?; Wireless trends; Design, integration; Manufacturing Day; Product Exclusive
PLCs, robots, and the quest for a single controller; how OEE is key to automation solutions.
This article collection contains several articles on improving the use of PID.
Learn how Industry 4.0 adds supply chain efficiency, optimizes pricing, improves quality, and more.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Cyber security cost-efficient for industrial control systems; Extracting full value from operational data; Managing cyber security risks
Drilling for Big Data: Managing the flow of information; Big data drilldown series: Challenge and opportunity; OT to IT: Creating a circle of improvement; Industry loses best workers, again