Use Wi-Fi In Retail? Be Ready To Get Sued

A mysterious patent troll that has already quietly sued restaurant chains Au Bon Pain, Panera, Caribou Coffee, Cosi and Corner Bakery Cafe and regional grocery chains Meijer, Dominick's and U-Save for their Wi-Fi use, last month added hundreds of individual hotels to its list of defendants. That's despite the fact that the retailers and hotels bought their Wi-Fi equipment from Cisco, Motorola and other vendors that had already paid license fees for the Wi-Fi patents.

What's particularly clever is that the plaintiff, a company called Innovatio that acquired the patents from Broadcom, is only asking for between $2,300 and $5,000 from each defendant. That's cheap enough that fighting in court doesn't make financial sense—but it makes CIOs look bad for buying what turned out to be extremely expensive technology. Cisco and Motorola have filed their own lawsuit asking that a court declare their customers to be non-infringing, but that could take years. In the meantime, be prepared to be served. "This is not a seat-of-the-pants, fly-by-night shakedown," Innovatio's lead litigator told patent blog The Patent Examiner—Innovatio plans to go after "anyone who's wireless networking."