Axis, OnSSI and Tyco All Sued

Author: John Honovich, Published on Aug 23, 2011

The IP Video Surveillance industry is under attack by an aggressive patent troll who, we believe, essentially seeks a tax on all IP cameras and VMS software. To establish their claim, the company, Walker Digital, has filed a lawsuit against Axis, OnSSI and Tyco Safety Products alleging that Axis IP Cameras, OnSSI VMS software and Tyco's video analytics all infringe on their patents.

Background

Walker Digital claims to have 'invented solutions to large scale problems' including evidentaly IP video surveillance. The company is in the middle of suing over 100 companies in a variety of industries. In April, they sued ADT and a number of remote video surveillance monitoring providers. That case was limited to companies who actually provide third party monitoring services, not simply manufacturers of surveillance products.

In June, Walker Digital initiated a new lawsuit against Axis, OnSSI and Tyco with a much broader scope. This lawsuit alleges that Axis IP Cameras like the M10 and OnSSI's Ocularis software violate Walker Digital's patents. The key patents in question include: 6720990, 7,593,033, 7605840 and 7817182.

The Patents

The relevant patents are all about an 'Internet Surveillance System and Method'. Here's an excerpt from the abstract of the oldest patent so you can understand the 'invention':

"A system and method are disclosed for a central server to manage remote monitoring tasks performed by users of a data network. An exemplary method comprises: receiving a request from a user of a user device to monitor a remote location; determining a remote location to be monitored; enabling communication between a sensor at the remote location and the user device; and crediting value to the user in accordance with an amount of time the user device has been in communication with the remote sensor for remote monitoring purposes. An alternate exemplary method includes measuring user attentiveness while the user device is in communication with the remote sensor. Thus, the disclosed system and method provide a way for users of a data network such as the Internet to log on at any time and perform remote monitoring tasks for value. Idle time can now be turned into value using the disclosed system and method."

As discussed in the first lawsuit review against ADT, this does seem applicable for paid third party remote monitoring services, however, there are clear questions about prior art superseding the invention for this use.

For general surveillance products, the focus of this second lawsuit, from our non-legal perspective, the case seems even more difficult.

  • Someone buying an IP camera can and normally uses it in many ways unrelated to remote monitoring for credited value. Indeed, the most common way is to watch one's own cameras. Does this lead to the conclusion that Digital Walker should be paid a royalty for anyone watching their own IP camera in their own home or business?
  • While the first patent application was filed in 1998, we would suspect there is substantial prior art. Axis, itself, claims to have shipped the first IP camera in 1996.

Industries Under Attack

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We believe this case is an excellent example of patents being used as a tax on innovation rather than the purported goal of patents - to encourage innovation.

We feel that Walker Digital's case against IP Video surveillance products is patent trolling in its most basic form: an aggressive, opportunistic campaign by a company who has never and seemingly has no intention of developing or manufacturing any IP video surveillance solutions themselves.

Currently, this case is the court system with both Tyco and Axis requesting extensions so they can prepare their responses.

For the sake of the industry, Axis must vigorously fight against this lawsuit. While Axis declined to comment on this litigation (standard practice in such matters), they have a history of purchasing patents or licensing them to avoid problems (e.g., with ObjectVideo for OV's questionable patents). It seems pretty clear to us that if Axis settled, this would encourage Walker Digital to sue or seek royalties from anyone else in the industry.

While I think this case has shaky grounds it is one that needs to be tracked closely and defeated for the benefit of the overall industry.

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