Ultra claims rights to modular PSU

April 14, 2008 | 09:13

Tags: #modular #patent #psu #sue

Companies: #antec #corsair #ocz #seasonic #tagan #thermaltake #ultra #zalman

Ultra Products has filed suit in the US district of Florida against twenty two tech companies, claiming violation of a 2006 patent on modular power supply units for PCs.

The company is seeking damages from various companies including PSU manufacturers Zalman, Thermaltake, Antec, Tagan, SeaSonic, and memory makers OCZ and Corsair. Ultra isn't looking for an injunction, however: the company claims that as the listed organisations have known of their infringement since 2006 the infringement is wilful, and asks for triple damages – the maximum allowable under US patent law.

The patent in question, US Patent Number 7,133,293, covers a “personal computer power supply installed within a case of a personal computer” where the rear has a DC output socket “disposed inside of the computer case for mating with the removable cable” and was filed in September 2004. If the patent proves valid, it's clear that it covers pretty much every modular PSU ever made.

That's going to prove difficult, however: a very similar patent was filed way back in April 2000 by Hewlett Packard and Tatung. Patent Number 6,466,433 details a “computer with modular power supply assembly in separate bay.” The HP patent isn't an exact match for the Ultra patent, describing as it does “an electrical coupling that electrically connects with a coupling mounted inside the computer housing automatically upon insertion,” but I'd hazard a guess that it's close enough for any reasonable patent court to rule it prior art.

This is despite Ultra claiming that it spent over a quarter of a million dollars in an exhaustive search for prior art – a search which presumably didn't include searching Google.

An employee of one of the companies accused of patent infringement, who very wisely wishes to remain nameless, believes that an overturning of the original patent can't come soon enough, claiming the lawsuit represents “a case of Ultra versus end-users[, because by] putting a modular power supply inside a computer, the end-users violated Ultra's patent.

Given the clear existence of prior art, I can't imagine Ultra succeeding in their quest for cash – so the next modular PSU you buy probably won't have a “Licensed by Ultra” sticker on it.

Do you remember any modular power supplies pre-dating the patent filing date, or is the HP patent proof enough of prior art? Share your thoughts over in the forums. Source: DailyTech
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