Cable companies sue Apple-backed patent coalition

A handful of cable companies are suing a coalition of tech firms that controls the rights to more than 4,000 patents.

In a document filed with the U.S. District Court for Delaware on Friday, Charter Communications, Suddenlink and other cable firms said that lawsuits and threats from the Rockstar coalition over patent rights it owns “have cast a cloud of uncertainty” over their operations.

The cable companies’ complaints echo those of Google, which has accused Rockstar of an aggressive campaign to push its products out of the market.

Apple, Microsoft and Research in Motion are part of the Rockstar coalition.

In 2011, Rockstar spent about $4.5 billion to buy up a number of patents when the Canadian telecommunications company Nortel went bankrupt. About half of the money came from Apple.

The cable companies claimed that the group has used the rights it owns to unfairly target other businesses to extract high fees.

“Rockstar has misused and attempted to obtain exorbitant royalties from licensing the patents it purchased from Nortel,” the companies alleged in their complaint filed with the court.

According to the lawsuit, the coalition has refused to work with the cable companies to identify which patents they are infringing. They say that Rockstar demanded that each of the cable companies sign off on a non-disclosure agreement before giving them details about the patents.

Instead of telling companies how technologies they use infringed its patents, Rockstar “provided only what it deemed ‘exemplary’ patents from its portfolio for evaluation,” the cable companies said in the court filing. “This left accused infringers with no way to meaningfully evaluate Rockstar’s infringement allegations, to refute its allegations of infringement, or to determine the actual value of the relevant patents within Rockstar’s portfolio.”

Rockstar and its subsidiaries have previously sued Time Warner Cable and Google for infringing on its patents.