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Microtune Vs. Broadcom Adds 'Antitrust' To Spat

With less than a week before a jury will hear their patent infringement claims, lawyers for Microtune Thursday filed even more paperwork; this time accusing semiconductor maker Broadcom of antitrust violations.

Plano, Texas-based Microtune is alleging Irvine, Calif.-based Broadcom engaged in various illegal anti-competitive activities including bundling its tuner together with its demodulator chips in attempts to "exclude Microtune and other competitors from a substantial share of the cable modem market."

The two companies have been embroiled in legal disputes for the last year or so. Previous complaints found Broadcom suing Microtune on patents related to tuners, power amplifiers, and Bluetooth products.

The latest twist in the legal spat was filed in the District Court of Williamson County, Texas. The suit seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages for the harm resulting from the alleged unlawful conduct on the part of Broadcom, including additional damages for willful anti-competitive and monopolistic conduct.

Microtune drew first blood against Broadcom in 2002 claiming the semiconductor infringed on one of its tuner patents. The case went to court in January 2003 and is still pending.

In July 2002, Broadcom returned the slam by filing a suit in Texas alleging that certain RF tuner products, different from the ones Microtune claims Broadcom infringed on, willfully infringed on Broadcom's patent, No. 6,377,315, titled "System And Method For Providing A Low Power Receiver Design."

The trial date has been set for March 6. Both sides are expected to give opening arguments in a U.S. District Court in neighboring Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division.

Microtune chairman and CEO Douglas Bartek said he was looking forward to "the opportunity to present this case to a jury on the soonest possible date."

Representatives for Broadcom were not able to speak on specifics related to any of the outstanding lawsuits.

In its second lawsuit against Microtune, Broadcom filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California seeking monetary damages and a permanent injunction against the manufacture and sale of devices that Broadcom feels infringe on electrostatic discharge protection circuits and other wireless technologies.

The patents in question are No. 6,445,039B1, titled "System And Method For ESD Protection," and No. 5,682,379 and 6,359,872, both titled "Wireless Personal Local Area Network."

That trial date has not been set.

Microtune currently holds 23 U.S. patents for its technology, with more than 50 applications pending approval that span its RF and wireless products, containing more than 2000 supporting claims.

Broadcom currently has 250 U.S. patents under its belt, out of which 100 relate to tuner, mixed signal, and wireless technologies.

In the wake of nine consecutive losing quarters, which led the semiconductor to cut 16 percent of its workforce in November 2002, Broadcom recently completed an internal reorganization effort that it began last year during a slump in demand for corporate telecommunications and networking equipment. That reorganization included the appointment of four vice presidents to manage business units, which have replaced the company's networking, carrier access, and home networking units.

In addition to the unexpected resignation of the company's longtime helmsman Henry Nicholas, Broadcom also announced that executives Martin Colombatto and Tim Lindenfelser were on leaves of absence.