After the Dali Wireless-CommScope Court Fight, Legal Uncertainties Linger in the Enterprise RAN

May 19, 2020

Summary Bullets:

  • Enterprise RAN vendors CommScope and Dali each won damages in countervailing patent infringement cases last week, but an injunction against two Dali products may be of interest to the broader industry.
  • That injunction is suspended pending appeal. It may be rendered moot by expiring patents, and its impact may be mild even if upheld. Still, additional suits could foster lingering uncertainty in this space.

A legal battle over patent infringement between enterprise RAN vendors CommScope and Dali Wireless came closer to resolution last week, but a key aspect – an injunction that would prevent Dali from selling two primary products – remains uncertain. A Dallas judge upheld a jury verdict rendered last year that awarded damages to both companies in a patent infringement suit and related countersuit. CommScope was ordered to pay almost $9.5 million, plus additional interest, and Dali was ordered to pay about $6 million, plus interest.

To the broader industry, however, those restitutions are not as important as an injunction in the case that would prohibit Dali from making or selling two of its three primary offerings: the Matrix and t-Series distributed antenna systems for indoor wireless networks. (The injunction doesn’t relate to Dali’s virtual fronthaul interface, the high-profile offering that many people may associate most with the small company.) Competitors in the enterprise RAN space should be eager to know whether Dali will be unable to sell those products going forward, and potential customers will want to know if they can or cannot purchase them. Unfortunately, all the answers aren’t clear yet.

In last week’s decision, the judge suspended the injunction while Dali files an appeal of the decision. That appeal could take several months, and in the meantime, Dali is free to continue selling both products. In addition, while that appeal is underway, nearly all of the CommScope patents at issue could expire, rendering the injunction mostly moot and freeing Dali to go on selling its wares.

According to Dali, the most important patents related to this dispute expire by the summer of 2021. One patent doesn’t expire until 2026, but Dali said that particular innovation is the least important; it optimizes RF transport in a way that becomes less important as network capacities increase in the 5G era. If necessary, Dali said, the vendor could create a workaround to compensate for the absence of that optimization method which might add some cost to its product but wouldn’t greatly impede the company. So, Dali is hopeful that the injunction won’t be much of an obstacle.

There are other reasons why this case isn’t likely to have a significant impact on the enterprise RAN sector. Dali says it stopped actively promoting the t-Series a few years ago when it launched the Matrix, a higher-capacity replacement for the t-Series. (However, the t-Series is still marketed on Dali’s website, and the vendor says some customers still ask for it, especially for public safety use cases where bandwidth requirements are lower and the t-Series’ lower price point is attractive.) Dali also says that the newer Matrix solution has not been widely deployed. So, any impact to either product isn’t likely to turn the industry on its ear.

Meanwhile, in a separate patent infringement suit filed last year, Dali is currently seeking injunctions to halt the sale of CommScope’s ION-E distributed antenna system offering and its OneCell small-cell solution. And in recent months, Dali began seeking injunctions against the sale of two more competitors in the enterprise RAN space: Corning’s E-RAN solution (once known as SpiderCloud’s) and JMA Wireless’s TEKO Cell Hub and XRAN software offerings.

All of these proceedings are likely to burn on for several months. So, while a few details and some added context above might clarify the meaning of last week’s ruling, more satisfying resolutions to the legal challenges in this sector aren’t likely to come anytime soon.