Telstra has now burned through two big legal firms fighting accusations of patent infringement

A Telstra retail store. James Alcock/Getty Images

Telstra has been through two top-of-the-town law firms, and now appointed a third, as Australia’s biggest telecommunications company fights patent infringement accusations in the Federal Court.

The new representative for Telstra is lawyer John F H Collins at Clayton Utz, according to a notice filed in the Federal Court. Clayton Utz has been asked for comment.

Collins replaces Sue Gilchrist whose law firm, Herbert Smith Freehills, “firmly denies” that it had a conflict of interest representing Telstra.

However, Upaid, which has brought the patent case against Telstra, was being represented by a unit of Freehills as recently as last month when it filed a patent application.

Upaid had made an application to the Federal Court seeking to restrain Freehills from acting against the interests of Upaid.

But Freehills decided to stop representing Telstra.

“Herbert Smith Freehills made a decision to withdraw from the case without admissions as it was in the best interests of our client to do so,” a spokesman told Business Insider.

In the Federal Court, Judge David Yates ordered Freehills to pay Upaid’s costs associated with its application to restrain Freehills. And anyone who came into contact with Upaid information at Freehills now has to sign an agreement to keep this confidential from Telstra.

Telstra last month suddenly appointed Freehills as its representative, effectively dropping King & Wood Mallesons, which had run the case for about 18 months.

It’s not known why Telstra wanted a new legal team. Telstra says: “We remain committed to exercising all our legal rights in this case. We will not be commenting on who might be providing us with legal advice at a particular time.”

At stake is potentially hundreds of millions of dollars for past and future use of patents held by Thailand-based Simon Joyce, the British-born chairman of Upaid Systems, which he founded in 1997.

Upaid is taking similar action against telecommunications giant NTT DoCoMo in Japan, seeking more than $100 million. In the US, communication groups Verizon and Qualcomm license patents from Upaid.

In documents lodged in the court, and seen by Business Insider, Upaid alleges Telstra infringed patents which allow customers to make ­purchases using their Telstra mobile while roaming overseas or through Bigpond.

The technology claimed by Upaid allows mobile phone users to conduct business with a large number of merchants over many networks, rather than being tied to one telecommunications provider, which was a constraint in the early days of mobile transactions.

Telstra has rejected Upaid’s claims.

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