ViaSat Accused of Patent Infringement in SS/L Countersuit

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PARIS — Satellite builder Space Systems/Loral (SS/L) on April 9 responded to a patent-infringement and breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by former customer ViaSat Inc. with a lawsuit of its own alleging that ViaSat has violated Loral patents.

The lawsuit, which like ViaSat’s Feb. 1 action was filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, also rejects ViaSat’s claims and says ViaSat “even claims fundamental principles of physics as its own ‘proprietary information.’”

Carlsbad, Calif.-based ViaSat alleges that SS/L and its parent company, Loral Space and Communications of New York, used ViaSat intellectual property on numerous SS/L-built satellites, especially the Jupiter/EchoStar 17 Ka-band broadband satellite scheduled for launch in June by ViaSat’s principal broadband competitor, Hughes Network Systems of Germantown, Md.

ViaSat’s Exede satellite consumer broadband service in the United States competes directly with Hughes’ HughesNet service. ViaSat-1, which entered service in January, and Jupiter/EchoStar 17 are high-throughput satellites, each with a throughput capacity of around 140 gigabits per second.

ViaSat’s lawsuit says it brought its satellite designs to SS/L and that the manufacturer illegally used them to win other business that ViaSat estimated at $1 billion or more since 2008.

In a separate filing, Loral Space and Communications rejects ViaSat’s attempt to draw SS/L’s parent company into the lawsuit, saying that “piercing the corporate veil” by linking the manufacturer to Loral Space and Communications is a leap that cannot be supported by U.S. legal precedent. Loral Space and Communications, the lawsuit says, had nothing to do with the activity that is the subject of the ViaSat complaint.

SS/L says at least three of its patents have been used without permission by ViaSat in recent years and embedded in ViaSat’s Surfbeam, Surfbeam 2, Linkstar Pro and Linkway satellite ground terminals.

The lawsuit says ViaSat, which has said it will select an SS/L competitor for a ViaSat-2 Ka-band broadband satellite to be ordered this year, will be infringing on Loral’s patents with that satellite as well.

Loral further alleges that ViaSat appears to have claimed as its own intellectual property what was developed by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in the mid-1990s for Lockheed’s planned Astrolink broadband satellite system. Astrolink was never built, but the designs for the system, filed with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, constitute “prior art” that should have been disclosed by ViaSat to the U.S. Patent Office as ViaSat filed its own patents.

Loral points specifically to an Oct. 6, 2006, presentation that it made to ViaSat when the two companies were in discussions about the system that would become ViaSat-1. The presentation was labeled “proprietary to Loral” and included many of the elements that ViaSat subsequently called its own, the lawsuit says.

“Since 2006, ViaSat has repeatedly claimed the ideas of others — including SS/L — as its own,” the SS/L lawsuit says.

The countersuit lists several examples of satellite broadband system ideas that ViaSat brought to SS/L and that required serious modification to be feasible or were rejected outright.

“ViaSat has even gone so far as to claim that a [frequency reuse] test method developed by SS/L for the in-orbit test plan for ViaSat 1 — a method that ViaSat adopted only after SS/L demonstrated that ViaSat’s own proposal was infeasible — is ViaSat’s intellectual property and that SS/L cannot use the … test method on other programs without a license from ViaSat,” the SS/L lawsuit says. “While ViaSat’s business needs were somewhat unique in 2006, the satellite design principles used to accomplish them were not new.”

 

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