Ciena Corp., the fast-growing, Linthicum-based fiber-optic networking equipment maker, filed a patent-infringement lawsuit yesterday against upstart competitor Corvis Corp., which was started by one of Ciena's founders.
In the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del., where both companies are incorporated, Ciena alleges that Columbia-based Corvis is knowingly infringing on three patents related to Ciena's optical networking communications technology, and is making and selling products based on the patents.
Steve Chase, a Corvis spokesman, said company executives could not comment on the suit.
Optical networks use glass fibers, rather than traditional copper wires, to transmit data over communications networks, and are capable of moving data at higher speeds than copper-based systems. Analysts expect communications providers to spend as much as $10 billion by 2004 on new optical networking equipment, and the industry has grown intensely competitive.
Ciena and Corvis each have developed an advanced generation of fiber-optic network switching and other equipment capable of moving huge reams of data at a lightening clip over existing broadband communications systems.
At issue are patents tied to a technology known as wavelength division multiplexing, or WDM. The technology replaces a single beam of light traversing over a fiber-optic cable with multiple beams of colored light. Each beam is capable of carrying thousands of voice conversations or data transmissions. That can serve to lower equipment and operating costs for long-distance and Internet communications providers.
Aaron Graham, a spokesman for Ciena, said a company lawyer was not available for comment yesterday.
In the suit, Ciena is requesting that the court prohibit Corvis from selling products based on the three patents it claims have been violated. Ciena also seeks an unspecified damage award, including royalties on Corvis' sales of products based on the infringed patents.
Corvis this year has announced several multimillion dollar product deals with some of the country's fastest-growing new long-distance and Internet providers, including Qwest Communications International Inc., Broadwing Inc. and Williams Communications Inc.
Corvis was started by Ciena founder David R. Huber, 49, in June 1997 after he left the Linthicum company in a management dispute.
In May, Corvis filed to raise up to $400 million in an initial public offering, though no date has been set for that event. It was unclear yesterday what, if any, effect the suit would have on Corvis' plans to go public.