Samsung ordered to pay $16 million to a guy who admits he didn't invent Bluetooth

Samsung CEO BK YoonREUTERS/Rick WilkingSamsung CEO BK Yoon at the opening CES keynote.

It’s a mixed-up crazy world when it comes to U.S. patent law.

The most recent case is a $US15.7 million verdict against Samsung over Bluetooth — even though the winner admitted in court that he had nothing to do with the invention of Bluetooth.

The man, Gordon Bremer, and his employer, Rembrandt, won the lawsuit even though Bremer said he was not involved in the Bluetooth 2.0 specification, and hadn’t even read it until years after Bluetooth was being used in products, reports ArsTechnica’s Joe Mullin.

Bremer sued Samsung over two patents that cover somewhat similar technology that allowed computer modems to instantly communicate with each other. Back in the day when people used modems to let their computers talk to the internet (or, more commonly, to dial-up services like AOL), modems used to take a long to time to connect, making a squealing, beeping noise, to sync up. Bremer’s patent let modems sync more quickly, he said on the stand in the trial, as reported by Marshall News’s Robin Richardson.

The Bluetooth 2.0 standard, including the part that allows Bluetooth devices to quickly sync with each other, was invented by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

When Samsung’s lawyers asked Bremer if he was a part of the Bluetooth group in any way, he fully admitted that he wasn’t. “I made no contributions to the standards body,” he said at the trial.

No matter. Bremer is in the business of accumulating patents for his employer, Rembrandt.

The not-so-kind word to describe this sort of operation is “patent troll.” That term refers to people or companies that don’t invent products, but instead buy patents to extract licensing fees from companies who do make products. If the companies don’t pay, patent trolls often sue for patent infringement and demand royalties.

Bremer admitted in court he gets 2.5% of any settlement that Rembrandt extracts for his patents. He says in 9 years of consulting for Rembrandt, he’s been paid $US670,000. And so he’s happy to keep applying for patents and awarding them to Rembrandt when he gets them, rather than using them in products, he said on the stand.

There’s another interesting wrinkle to the case: It was tried in The Eastern District of Texas, in Marshall, Texas, which has become known as a favourable court for small patent holders to sue large corporations.

In fact, Samsung is so regularly sued for patent infringement in Marshall, Texas, that for the past few years it has engaged in a giant PR campaign there, Ars Technica reports.
Samsung sponsors the town’s winter festival and ice skating rink (pictured right) gives donations of tech equipment and scholarships to local high schools and students, donates to Marshall’s Habitat for Humanity, and otherwise misses no opportunity for its logo to be plastered in pride somewhere in the town.

Unfortunately for Samsung, the warm fuzzy feeling it is aiming for didn’t work with this jury. It lost the case anyway.

We’ve reached out to Samsung for comment and asked if it plans to appeal. We’ll update the story when we hear back.

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