Do you have a heat pipe CPU cooler inside your system? American Technology, Inc. is suing some of the companies that have sold enthusiast heatsinks and cooling equipment to our community for years. Interestingly enough, American Technology, Inc. looks to only be targeting the "little guys" in its lawsuit.
Mark Friga Jr., President and CEO of FrozenCPU, has been a friend of HardOCP's for many years. FrozenCPU has been a longtime supplier to enthusiast DIY computer system builders and claims to have, "The world's largest selection of PC modification supplies and services."
Mark called me a couple of days ago and let me know that he had just been served with a lawsuit. Amazingly enough, it seems that the lawsuit was filed because FrozenCPU sells CPU coolers that use heat pipes in its construction. He faxed over the pages of the lawsuit and those are shown to you below.
FrozenCPU is not alone in this fight, along with it, many other companies have been named: Altima Computers, CoolerGuys.com, CPUTopia, FrontierPC.com, IntraCom Holdings, LinkDAT, Marlin P. Jones & Assoc., NAC Group, OutletPC.com, VelocityMicro, Cybertron International, American Future Technology, Silicon Mountain Holdings, and Raidmax Tech. Some of those names will ring familiar while others will not. What these companies have in common according to the court documents below is they all are being accused of infringing on US Patent # 6,411,512, that is for a "High Performance Cold Plate."
Defendants have each infringed and continue to infringe the '512 Patent by making, using, selling, and/or importing in the United States, cooling devices and assemblies that embody or otherwise practice one or more of the claims of the '512 Patent.
Interestingly enough, "you" are named in the lawsuit as well.
Defendants have been and still are infringing the '512 Patent under 35 U.S.C. 271(b) by actively inducing direct infringement by end-user who operate and/or use cooling devices and assemblies that embody or otherwise practice one or more of the claims of the '512 Patent.
No specific number for damages is mentioned as it is "yet to be determined."
While the patent is included in the lawsuit below, you will be much better off hitting this link to give it a look, US Patent # 6,411,512. There you can see clearer drawings of device in question. I have spent more than a few hours going over the drawings and descriptions, but it does not look to me that a typical modern air cooled CPU cooler is infringing on this patent, but certainly I am not a patent lawyer or an engineer, so consider everything stated here my personal opinion. The device in question does have heat pipes, but they are specifically internal, and the device shown is also specific to "liquid cooling." The device pictured uses a liquid flow into the body of the device that utilizes a heat exchanger to carry heat from the heatpipes, through the heat exchanger, then away from the cold plate via some type of liquid. Also the device in question does not mount onto a CPU but rather onto the PCB and attached components themselves. Certainly we know that our typical CPU coolers attached to the face of a discrete CPU and not the PCB of a motherboard or onto any of the attached motherboard components.
FrozenCPU has engaged the law firm of Storm LLP of Dallas, Texas to defend them in the patent infringement brought by ATI against the numerous defendants. Storm LLP is an intellectual property boutique that specializes in intellectual property litigation. You might recognize them as the firm that defended [H]ARDOCP against Infinium Labs. Whereas ATI appears to be embarking on the well established plaintiff strategy of first destroying the small and helpless villages on its way to seeking the fortunes of a larger city, FrozenCPU has decided to put up a fight and rally the villages together to put up a collect fight. In my opinion, they have really picked the right law firm to do just that. John Fischer is lead counsel for Storm LLP, and if anybody can kill a patent – he can. He recently defended JC Penney in a patent case in the Eastern District of Texas, and the attack on the patents was so severe, the plaintiff gave up the case at the early Markman Hearing stage. It remains to be seen it these villages can work together, or if they will try to defend themselves independently.
The other thing about this that really sticks out to me is what is missing, both in terms of hardware and defendants.
As for hardware, heatpipes have been around for a long time and I see nothing in the drawings that represent a modern CPU heat pipe cooler. In fact, I would suggest that the device in question actually goes against how heat pipes are used in most CPU coolers we see. The drawings shown represent something much more complex and expensive to manufacture. I did ask FrozenCPU if the lawyers for the plaintiff they spoke with were specific as to what type of products were infringing and FrozenCPU told me that a Noctua cooler was pointed out. All the Noctua coolers I am familiar with use the traditional heat pipe to external cooling fin design.
As for the defendants, where are the obvious companies that would have to also be considered infringing on this patent? First and foremost, Intel and AMD. I would suggest that Intel and AMD sell more heatpipe CPU coolers in North America than any other company. Beyond that, were are the retailers that move the most of this product? Namely Newegg, TigerDirect, and other huge etail companies. Those names seem to be missing from this lawsuit. FrozenCPU informed me that they had specifically asked the plaintiff's attorney about Newegg being omitted from the lawsuit and the attorney responded that Newegg had a "hall pass." Not a license, but a "hall pass."
This all makes me think, and this is my personal opinion, that American Technologies is out to "shake down" some of these smaller companies that it thinks it can get a licensing agreement with them rather than having to bear the expense of going to trial. I do know some of the defendants on the list and I would guess they are not ones to be bullied.
It will be interesting to see what happens with all of this. I think that the basis of the "infringement" is shaky at best, but you never know how a court will see things. One thing is for sure. Those of us that buy CPU air coolers are likely going to have to pay for it one way or another before it is all said and done. frown
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