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Archive for March, 2008

Software turns smart phone into hotspot

Here’s a cool use for a phone that has both cellular broadband and Wi-Fi: Turn it into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot so your friends can surf the Internet on their laptops.

A couple startups have created and made available software like this in the last year. But a more established software maker said Wednesday that it has created a package for carriers to offer their customers.

TapRoot Systems Inc. of Research Triangle Park, N.C., said it was talking with carriers about providing their customers with the software, which would let up to five Wi-Fi users connect to a phone.

A possible free trial version would let only one Wi-Fi user connect to the phone at a time.

The software works on phones with Windows Mobile or Symbian S60 software. Windows phones are common in the U.S., while Symbian is championed by Nokia Corp. and more common in Europe. There already is an independent program called WMWifirouter that turns Windows phones into hotspots, and there’s one called JoikuSpot for Nokia phones.

Capacity is limited on third-generation cellular broadband networks, and carriers are somewhat restrictive of the applications they allow, for fear their networks will be overwhelmed.

TapRoot’s system attempts to assuage that fear by letting carriers control access through a server, said Chief Executive Bob Bicksler. The carriers could then charge extra for the service, he said.

Not many phones have both 3G and Wi-Fi. U.S. carriers have in some cases removed or disabled Wi-Fi antennas for the U.S. launches of some phones by overseas manufacturers, apparently because they fear customers would be less likely to pay for 3G. However, combined Wi-Fi and 3G phones are becoming more common.

Bicksler mentioned AT&T Inc.’s Tilt and 8525 models and Sprint Nextel Corp.’s Mogul by HTC as phones that would work as mobile hotspots.

Another way of using a 3G network to create a Wi-Fi hotspot is to buy a Wi-Fi router that accepts a cellular broadband card. Cisco Systems Inc. makes such a router for the Sprint network.

Motorola to break into 2 companies

Motorola Inc. bowed to pressure from investors Wednesday, announcing a plan to split its struggling cell phone business from other operations to form two separate publicly traded companies.

The widely expected deal comes as the suburban Chicago cell phone maker faces a second straight year of agitation from billionaire investor Carl Icahn, who has become increasingly frustrated with Motorola’s eroding phone sales.

Executives said the move will allow the two companies to better focus on their respective strengths and weaknesses, while accelerating the turnaround plan for the cell phone unit, which has seen its fortunes slip after trend-conscious customers lost interest in the Razr flip phone.

“The creation of the two independent publicly traded companies provides improved management focus and a capital structure that’s more tailored to the individual business needs,” said Chief Executive Greg Brown, who will remain at the helm of the split company’s non-cell phone unit. “And it will provide some improved alignment and agility and will help us going forward.”

Specifics of the deal haven’t been disclosed, but Motorola said its handset business will operate separately from another company offering its TV set-top boxes and modems and its computing and communications equipment.

Schaumburg-based Motorola said it anticipates the transaction will be tax-free, allowing shareholders to own stock in both of the new companies. If the deal is approved by regulators, the two units would be separated in 2009.

Officials haven’t said whether one company or both will retain the Motorola brand name or which company will distribute stock to existing shareholders.

Icahn called Wendesday’s announcement “much delayed and long overdue” and continued to push for the election of his four board members.

“As one of the largest Motorola stockholders, I continue to have concerns about the speed and manner in which a new management team is selected for the mobile devices business and the separation transaction is consummated,” he said in a statement.

“Time is of the essence, and decisive action is required to reposition the Mobile Devices business for success as an independent company,” Icahn said.

Pfizer again sues Ranbaxy over Lipitor

In a bid to extend the exclusivity of its $13-billion anti-cholesterol drug Lipitor, Pfizer—the world’s largest drugmaker—has filed two separate patent infringement cases against Ranbaxy Laboratories. Pfizer wants to prevent the Indian company from launching generic versions of Lipitor (Atorvastatin) and Caduet (a combination drug of Lipitor) in the US until 2016.

At present, Ranbaxy can launch Atorvastatin only in March 2010. The lawsuits seek to extend that ban by six more years. According to estimates, it is expected to generate $1 billion in the first six months after launch. A delayed launch will therefore be a big setback for the Indian drugmaker.

The US drugmaker filed the suits in the Delaware district court on Tuesday, alleging that Ranbaxy would infringe upon the process patents of both its drugs if it were to sell low-cost versions in the US market. A Ranbaxy spokesperson declined to comment. Ranbaxy, riding on many litigations, has been able to advance the launch date of its Lipitor version by 15 months to March 2010. The patent for Lipitor in the US expires in July 2011.

Incidentally, Pfizer’s latest offensive against Ranbaxy is on expected lines as Lipitor accounts for about a quarter of its total global sales. Caduet, which is a combine of Lipitor and hypertension drug Norvasc, had $568 million in sales in 2007. As drug discoveries dry up, innovator companies are desperately trying to fend off generic competition to protect existing patented drugs.

For Ranbaxy too, big bucks are riding on the drug’s launch. It is the first generic company to challenge the patent and if successful, will get six months exclusive marketing rights along with the innovator company. The Gurgaon-based company’s shares on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) closed at Rs 448.10 on Wednesday, down by 0.76% from Tuesday’s close of Rs 451.55.

Industry experts are divided on the development’s impact. While some believe Pfizer’s move is boosted by its recent success in the Canadian court and it might be able to delay Ranbaxy’s generic launch, others think that the impact can’t be gauged before the court decision.

Last week, the Federal Court of Appeal of Canada had overruled a lower court order that will prevent Ranbaxy from getting regulatory nod to launch a Lipitor copy till July 2010. Ranbaxy is fighting patent battles with Pfizer to launch low-cost versions of Lipitor in over 15 countries. It was successful in invalidating Pfizer’s patent in Norway and the UK, but received an adverse ruling in Spain.

Rambus wins memory-chip trial

Rambus Inc. scored a key victory Wednesday in its nearly decade-old fight with memory chip makers when a jury found the company did not engage in monopolistic behavior by patenting technologies that eventually became standard in memory chips.

Shares of the Los Altos-based company shot up $7.25, or nearly 39 percent, to $25.86 during regular-session trading on the news. They gained another $1.02 to $26.88 after hours.

The jury’s decision could help Rambus as it tries to collect millions of dollars in royalties on patents some of the biggest memory chip makers claim were fraudulently obtained.

However, Rambus still faces major court battles over those patents, including its attempt to overturn a 2006 Federal Trade Commission ruling that the company deceived a standards-setting committee and created a monopoly in the memory chip industry. Rambus is hoping for a decision by this summer on its appeal.

After a seven-week trial, a jury in U.S. District Court in San Jose decided Wednesday in Rambus’ favor on all three counts it was deliberating, according to Thomas Lavelle, Rambus’ general counsel. The jury deliberated for just one day.

In the lawsuit, originally filed in 2000, chip makers Micron Technology Inc., Hynix Semiconductor Inc. and Nanya Technology Corp. argued that patents held by Rambus for key technologies now included in their chips should be considered invalid. And they said they shouldn’t have to pay royalties to Rambus.

The companies say Rambus engaged in illicit behavior in filing the patents for technologies used in DRAM, or dynamic random access memory, the most common type of memory chip, the part in a personal computer that stores data.

The FTC found Rambus deliberately withheld information from the Joint Electron Device Engineering Council (JEDEC) — an important engineering council which counted Rambus as a member — when the council was developing technical standards for all companies in the computer memory industry.

The FTC found Rambus concealed information about which patents it had secured or knew it would be able to secure.

The council adopted standards that meant other companies hoping to use the technology in question would either have to infringe on Rambus’ patents or buy expensive licenses to use the technology.

Rambus officials were pleased with Wednesday’s decision but acknowledged other sizable hurdles remain before the company can collect royalties.

“The issue of the behavior of Rambus at JEDEC has really been a problem for Rambus, because the manufacturers have turned it into a cause celebre, saying we behaved improperly and illegally,” Lavelle said in an interview. “This jury found that’s not the case. We believe it vindicates what we’ve done.”

Micron said in a statement that it would appeal the jury’s finding.

Patent Calculator

A free website provided by Neustel Law Offices, to help patent attorneys, businesses and inventors determine the expiration date and maintenance fee dates for United States utility patents.

Composite components in wind turbines

Lightweight structures are the most common applications for continuous-fibre reinforced composite materials because the materials they use often involve a thickness of no more than a few millimetres. However producing Continuous-Fibre Reinforced Composite (CFRC) laminate materials that are several centimetres thick, presents various structural modelling problems, which need to be overcome prior to industrial implementation.

Monitoring wind farm production

The increasing complexity of wind farms and their turbines has warranted the establishment of a comprehensive tool for their performance analysis. To determine manufacture type, turbine performance and statistical production levels, a data acquisition system needs to incorporate a vast amount of data. New IT technologies, using TCP/IP networks, offers remote control of wind farm functions as well as the collection of performance data.

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