Friday Novatel Wireless Inc. filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California (pdf) against upstart company Franklin Wireless Corp. of San Diego, ZTE Corp. of China and ZTE Inc. here in the States. Novatel claims that the three companies have infringed on five patents related to "key architecture and functionality" of its MiFi family of mobile hotspot devices.
"Novatel Wireless invented the MiFi Intelligent Mobile Hotspot and with that created a whole new product category in the wireless ecosystem," said Peter Leparulo, Chairman and CEO of Novatel Wireless. "We're confident that we will continue to lead the market, but competitors need to rely on their own inventions rather than infringe on ours."
Although Novatel holds numerous U.S. and international key patents and patent applications defining elements of the MiFi family, several competitors have brought similar products to the market since the launch of the first MiFi device back in 2009. Verizon currently offers both Novatel's MiFi and ZTE's Fivespot, whereas Sprint provides the MiFi along with ZTE's Peel and carrier-labeled Franklin modems.
Engadget points out that the patents specified are broad enough to cover WiFi tethering from smartphones. If that is indeed the case, this lawsuit could have a larger impact on the industry as a whole rather than mediating a legal patent dispute between Novatel and the three companies in question.