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A small Phoenix company is taking on some of the giants in the cellular phone industry, claiming that many companies are copying its patented invention for pay-as-you-go cellphone service. Freedom Wireless Inc., a four-person operation, has sued at least a half-dozen companies-including Cingular Wireless LLC and Verizon Wireless-in the past 18 months for allegedly infringing on three patents involving the prepaid cellular phone concept. Last year, the small outfit won a $128 million verdict in a Massachusetts case. “Going up against these companies is like a well-trained high school football team going up against an NFL championship team,” said Freedom Wireless President Larry Day. Most recently, on Nov. 30 in federal court in Marshall, Texas, Freedom Wireless sued five wireless carriers and services providers-Cingular Wireless, Ericsson Inc., Alltel Corp., Comverse Inc. and Verisign Inc.-for patent infringement. Freedom Wireless Inc. v. Cingular Wireless, No. 06cv505 (E.D. Texas); Freedom Wireless Inc. v. Alltel Corp., No. 06cv504 (E.D. Texas). Freedom claims that it has three patents, issued in 1998 to 2001, covering the prepaid business model, which helps people with bad credit get cellular phone service. Customers buy increments of airtime for any cellphone, and are charged only for the time they use. “The issue of prepaid telephone calls is not a new invention. From the day you could put 10 cents into a telephone a person was making a prepaid phone call . . . .What they did was quite obvious,” said attorney Michael Keating of Boston’s Foley Hoag, who defended a Boston company that was sued by Freedom Wireless in 2005. Freedom Wireless v. Boston Communications Group Inc., No. 00-CV-12234 (D. Mass.). In that case, a jury awarded $128 million in damages to Freedom Wireless. The case settled for $87 million during appeal, of which Boston Communications Group Inc. paid $53 million. Other defendants paid the rest. Boston’s Goodwin Procter, which represents Freedom in the Texas case, was not available for comment. Also last year, Verizon Wireless settled a suit with Freedom Wireless for an undisclosed amount and has a license with it. The companies that are still contesting the patents deny any wrongdoing. “We believe that the Freedom Wireless patents are invalid and that we are not infringing on them,” said Kathy Egan, spokeswoman for Ericsson Inc., based in Plano, Texas. Cingular spokeswoman Rochelle Cohen said, “We believe the patents in question are invalid and unenforceable.”

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