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The opponents in a patent fight have taken the unusual step of pullingeach other’s law firms into the litigation ring. Rockwell Automation Inc. sued Chicago-based Niro, Scavone, Haller & Nirolast year for allegedly filing “baseless, sham” patent infringementsuits. 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 tolicense Solaia’s patent in violation of antitrust laws. “This might be viewed as tit for tat but that’s not the case,” saidRaymond Niro Sr. of Niro Scavone. The countersuit was filed after a Wisconsin federal judge denied NiroScavone’s motion to dismiss Rockwell Automation, Inc. v. SchneiderAutomation, Inc., 02-1195. Niro made a distinction between companies teaming up to defend againstpatent infringement claims and the practice of “actively solicitingparties not to deal.” The latter, he said, “crosses the line.” Patent lawyers say it’s uncommon for law firms to be named as defendantsin patent disputes. Defendants often request attorney fees when they believe a case ismeritless, said Patricia Thayer, a partner at Heller Ehrman White &McAuliffe, but “seeing lawsuits from one lawyer against another isunusual.” “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said John Briggs III, a partner inHowrey Simon’s Washington, D.C., office who is representing Rockwell.Niro Scavone is “unhappy with any firm that defends a client thatdoesn’t bend to their will.” Niro Scavone and its clients contend that Rockwell’s industrialautomation equipment infringes Solaia’s patent on a method ofcontrolling factory production processes. Rather than suing Rockwell forinfringement, Solaia has sued Rockwell’s customers. The customersinclude 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. — thecompany that enforces the patents of the inventor of the answeringmachine — formed Solaia. Niro Scavone is known as one of the country’s leading patent enforcers,most frequently representing companies like Solaia that have no productsand 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 pricefor a license, encouraging potential licensees to refuse licenses evenat 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-settingorganization for the industrial automation industry, was established byRockwell and acts as “a mouthpiece for Rockwell,” urging members not tolicense Solaia’s patent.

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