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Ultra claims rights to modular PSU

Ultra claims rights to modular PSU

The Ultra patent clearly describes a modular power supply, but the question remains as to whether it was the first.

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

22 Comments

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Blademrk 14th April 2008, 11:08 Quote
missing a ] in the link :)
Quote:
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.
And I'm sure someone in the modding comunity would have done a modular PSU before that...
Scirocco 14th April 2008, 11:16 Quote
Performance-PCs in the US modulated and sold power supplies in 2003. Wonder what Ultra thinks of that?
http://www.virtual-hideout.net/reviews/ppcs_ultima_psu/index.shtml
Silver51 14th April 2008, 13:07 Quote
I don't really get patents.

It sounds like a broken system which people use to sue others for vast sums of money.
Tim S 14th April 2008, 13:44 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Scirocco
Performance-PCs in the US modulated and sold power supplies in 2003. Wonder what Ultra thinks of that?
http://www.virtual-hideout.net/reviews/ppcs_ultima_psu/index.shtml

I believe Performance PCs are fine since they're shortening cables and then adding additional cables on... rather than making it modular from the unit itself.
Kode 14th April 2008, 14:11 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tim S
I believe Performance PCs are fine since they're shortening cables and then adding additional cables on... rather than making it modular from the unit itself.

Yeah, but isnt the point that May 2003 (ie when that article was released) is before September 2004 when the patent was filed, so either way they are fine, and like Blademrk said, theres bound to have been someone who came up with a modular PSU before that.
TreeDude 14th April 2008, 14:42 Quote
Well I won't ever buy an Ultra PSU. I don't support a company that tries something like this. I will stick with Enermax and Antech.

Our patent system is so flipping broken. Why the hell is nothing being done about it?
naokaji 14th April 2008, 14:44 Quote
ultra is a rather small company, they will probably just be bought out by a bigger company to stop the lawsuit.
Kode 14th April 2008, 14:45 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by naokaji
ultra is a rather small company, they will probably just be bought out by a bigger company to stop the lawsuit.

Probably what they are after
scarrmrcc 14th April 2008, 14:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TreeDude
Well I won't ever buy an Ultra PSU. I don't support a company that tries something like this. I will stick with Enermax and Antech.

Our patent system is so flipping broken. Why the hell is nothing being done about it?

what exactly is broken?

it is not the system that has issues, it is the people trying to use it as a form of income. and usually they get big news by saying they are going to sue, and then fail, and just make fools out of them selves.

don't worry about it, and don't buy ultra (i plan on never buying an ultra...not like i ever found one i wanted anyway...)
completemadness 14th April 2008, 15:27 Quote
the HP one sounds like a redundant PSU patent, which im surprised they could get as its not a new idea atall

the Ultra patent sounds like a modular PSU patent, could be interesting
TreeDude 14th April 2008, 15:34 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by scarrmrcc
Quote:
Originally Posted by TreeDude
Well I won't ever buy an Ultra PSU. I don't support a company that tries something like this. I will stick with Enermax and Antech.

Our patent system is so flipping broken. Why the hell is nothing being done about it?

what exactly is broken?

it is not the system that has issues, it is the people trying to use it as a form of income. and usually they get big news by saying they are going to sue, and then fail, and just make fools out of them selves.

don't worry about it, and don't buy ultra (i plan on never buying an ultra...not like i ever found one i wanted anyway...)

The thing is they will sue and most likely win. Cases like these happen all the time here in the US. We have entire companies that just go out and file patents then sue when they get infringed on. The patent system should not be able to be exploited like that.

Now at least we know Ultra has a product. So this one is not so bad. The problem is how late the patent was filed. Many companies had modular PSUs in 2006, not just Ultra. So it was not that Ultra came up with the idea, it is that they filed first. That is not what patenting is all about.

In order to file a patent you should need proof of concept (meaning something other than just the idea, something tangible) and proof that no one else has anything like it. If you don't patent it right away you should not be able to ever IMO. You snooze you loose.
jonnyGURU 14th April 2008, 15:36 Quote
It looks like bit-tech assembled this news based on a little bit of news from over here and a little bit from over there. Mostly from the DailyTech article: http://www.dailytech.com/Ultra+Sues+Everyone+Over+Modular+Power+Supplies/article11438.htm

For example: It wasn't Ultra that was quoted as saying they spent $250K searching for prior art, although I'm sure Ultra could have easily spent as much if not more on this. It was one of the defendants. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that the other defendant that was stating that this is "a case of Ultra versus end-users" either didn't read the patent or is doing a good job of spreading FUD, because that part of the patent is simply trying to narrow the claim by stating the application of the device. It was the manufacturers that were served... not the end users.

Also, one has to understand how narrow the claim is. Not only do they define that it's a "power supply" and that it's "modular" but that the interface is on the housing, there's two or more connectors, that these connectors provide a direct DC to DC connection with the peripherals and that, as I pointed out before, the unit is used in a personal computer and how it is installed, etc. All of that actually rules out A LOT of prior art when you think about it.

That said, I really hope this goes away quickly. Worst case scenario is Ultra wins and fewer modular PSU's on the market and the cost of whatever modular PSU's we do have available to us are expensive because of licensing fees that will have to be built into the price of the unit. On the other hand, now that this has finally come into light, if it gets overturned then the playing field is wide open. Other companies can product modular power supplies without fear of getting sued or having to pay licensing fees.

Let's hope that the folks that actually did spend the $250K on finding prior art really has something that makes this whole thing go away and go away quickly.
Drexial 14th April 2008, 15:44 Quote
http://www.google.com/patents?id=-mZ7AAAAEBAJ&zoom=4&pg=PP1&ci=362,953,268,279&source=bookclip

Here is the HP patent. I would say the HP Patent pretty much rules out any case that Ultra had.

Regardless, I had an Ultra modular. It worked great while I had it. But honestly. My case is tidier with being able to stash cables, than it was with a modular.
jonnyGURU 14th April 2008, 16:00 Quote
Actually no, that's the Ultra patent. The link in the news post is pooched. THIS is the HP patent: http://www.google.com/patents?id=cHgLAAAAEBAJ&dq=6,466,433

Just looking at the title you can tell it's not the same thing. It's a power supply that's modular because it's in a separate bay (like how a redundant PSU works). It's not a power supply with modular cables. The cables are fixed to the interface that the PSU slides into thereby making it a completely different idea. Check out the diagrams. Neat idea actually. I like it. But not the same.
Drexial 14th April 2008, 16:56 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnyGURU
Actually no, that's the Ultra patent. The link in the news post is pooched. THIS is the HP patent: http://www.google.com/patents?id=cHgLAAAAEBAJ&dq=6,466,433

Just looking at the title you can tell it's not the same thing. It's a power supply that's modular because it's in a separate bay (like how a redundant PSU works). It's not a power supply with modular cables. The cables are fixed to the interface that the PSU slides into thereby making it a completely different idea. Check out the diagrams. Neat idea actually. I like it. But not the same.


Yeah you are correct. Sorry about this. I saw the image in the article and when I saw the first Image on the patent wasnt the same I stopped. I wasnt able to read the whole thing at the time.
Gareth Halfacree 14th April 2008, 18:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnyGURU
Actually no, that's the Ultra patent. The link in the news post is pooched. THIS is the HP patent: http://www.google.com/patents?id=cHgLAAAAEBAJ&dq=6,466,433
Whoopsie. I must have missed the important 'copy' step out of 'copy and paste' when doing the link. Sorry.
Ninja_182 14th April 2008, 19:23 Quote
I always thought the patent system went on the basis of "you cant patent something if its obvious". My Hi-Fi back home has a mains going in, and has ports on the back for supplying power to my speakers and thats early 90s, I know its not the same thing but its a similar concept. Optical drives have ports on the back of them for plugging wires in, I'm amazed a patent like this would even be granted nevermind used to sue someone.
DXR_13KE 14th April 2008, 22:28 Quote
i also consider the patent system broken and inefficient....
E.E.L. Ambiense 14th April 2008, 22:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnyGURU
...That said, I really hope this goes away quickly. Worst case scenario is Ultra wins and fewer modular PSU's on the market and the cost of whatever modular PSU's we do have available to us are expensive because of licensing fees that will have to be built into the price of the unit. On the other hand, now that this has finally come into light, if it gets overturned then the playing field is wide open. Other companies can product modular power supplies without fear of getting sued or having to pay licensing fees.

Let's hope that the folks that actually did spend the $250K on finding prior art really has something that makes this whole thing go away and go away quickly.

You got that right. I posted something about this end of last week when I read something about it over at [H]. It's scary. I for one enjoy modularity in my PSU's. I'm a wire-management freak so I tend to like the fact that I don't need some lines attached at all.

By the way, I have you to thank for getting me to buy the Ultra X3 1kW unit with the killer review you did on it, lol. Talk about feeding the fires. My cash, in part, is helping Ultra attack the other companies!
jonnyGURU 15th April 2008, 00:34 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by E.E.L. Ambiense

By the way, I have you to thank for getting me to buy the Ultra X3 1kW unit with the killer review you did on it, lol. Talk about feeding the fires. My cash, in part, is helping Ultra attack the other companies!

For the record, I didn't write that review. ;) I believe that was madmat that wrote that one. The site just has my name on it. I no longer own it and I haven't written anything for it in about six months.
E.E.L. Ambiense 15th April 2008, 00:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by jonnyGURU
For the record, I didn't write that review. ;) I believe that was madmat that wrote that one. The site just has my name on it. I no longer own it and I haven't written anything for it in about six months.

Oh, LOL. Oh well. Still. Good site. ;)
CowBlazed 15th April 2008, 21:13 Quote
Most of Ultra PSUs are garbage, get some of the worst ratings in reviews I've seen for ripples and such especially the early generations. Owned by tigerdirect I believe.
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