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The opponents in a patent fight have taken the unusual step of pulling each other’s law firms into the litigation ring. Rockwell Automation Inc. sued Chicago-based Niro, Scavone, Haller & Niro last year for allegedly filing “baseless, sham” patent infringement suits. On Friday, Niro, Scavone client Solaia Technology fired back, claiming Rockwell and two of Rockwell’s law firms — Howrey Simon Arnold & White and Fish & Richardson — had induced other companies not to license Solaia’s patent in violation of antitrust laws. “This might be viewed as tit for tat but that’s not the case,” said Raymond Niro Sr., of Niro, Scavone. The countersuit was filed after a Wisconsin federal judge denied Niro, Scavone’s motion to dismiss Rockwell Automation, Inc. v. Schneider Automation, Inc., 02-1195. Niro made a distinction between companies teaming up to defend against patent infringement claims and the practice of “actively soliciting parties not to deal.” The latter, he said, “crosses the line.” Patent lawyers say it’s uncommon for law firms to be named as defendants in patent disputes. Defendants often request attorneys fees when they believe a case is meritless, said Patricia Thayer, a partner at Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, but “seeing lawsuits from one lawyer against another is unusual .” “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said John Briggs III, a partner in Howrey Simon’s Washington, D.C., office who is representing Rockwell. Niro, Scavone is “unhappy with any firm that defends a client that doesn’t bend to their will.” Niro, Scavone and its clients contend that Rockwell’s industrial automation equipment infringes Solaia’s patent on a method of controlling factory production processes. Rather than suing Rockwell for infringement, Solaia has sued Rockwell’s customers. The customers include The Clorox Co., Boeing Co., Eastman Kodak Co. and Eli Lilly & Co. Chicago-based Solaia purchased the patent from Schneider Automation Inc. Dan Henderson, who also founded PhoneTel Communications Inc. — the company that enforces the patents of the inventor of the answering machine — formed Solaia. Niro, Scavone is known as one of the country’s leading patent enforcers, most frequently representing companies like Solaia that have no products and instead license and enforce patents. Solaia said in its complaint that 40 companies have accepted licenses, cumulatively paying Solaia nearly $17 million to date. Howrey Simon and Fish & Richardson “have attempted to force a zero price for a license, encouraging potential licensees to refuse licenses even at royalty rates that have been capped between $300,000 and $600,000,” the complaint says. The complaint also alleges that the OPC Foundation, a standards-setting organization for the industrial automation industry, was established by Rockwell and acts as “a mouthpiece for Rockwell,” urging members not to license Solaia’s patent.

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