Novell wins 12-year-long patent infringement charge

Roger Billings is laying down his decade-long dispute with Novell for allegedly stealing his plans for the LAN. Billings is instead turning to manufacturing hydrogen fuel cells and assuming the mantle of a Mormon-offshoot church, the Church of Jesus Christ in Zion.

Twelve years ago in December 1991, Billings, an ex-Utah resident, filed patent infringement charges against Novell, the owner of the NetWare operating system, for US$220 million. He claimed that Novell had usurped his idea for connecting machines to a single file server so they could communicate and share files. Billings argued that Novell's NetWare had caused US$62.5 billion worth of damages to his company Billings Computers.

In a high-profile case among NetWare fans, Billings claimed that members of Novell's SuperSet design team, with whom he attended Brigham Young University (BYU), took his idea for client/server computing after seeing it demonstrated at a tradeshow. BYU in Provo, Utah, is just up the road from Novell's corporate campus.

Six years after receiving his 1987 patent -- "Functionally Structured Distributed Database Processing System" -- for his client/server computing idea, Billings settled with a Novell customer, Bank of America for US$125,000. He had sued the bank, which was using 100 Novell NetWare servers, for using technology that he claimed was his. Novell refused to settle Billings' suit against it and a court denied Novell's motion to dismiss the case.

Novell attempted to discredit Billings' claim by pointing to evidence that Billings believed in one of the early teachings of the Mormon church -- polygamy or the marriage of more than one woman to a man. Billings said that even though he had written a tract on polygamy, he did not practice it as prophet and patriarch of the Church of Jesus Christ in Zion, an offshoot of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, commonly called the Mormons and headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Novell also tried to cast doubt on a graduate university Billings founded in Independence, the site of another Mormon offshoot, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Billings is also the founder and president of Gigabit Ethernet company WideBand.

Novell rejected Billing's claims based on prior art. At the time Novell came out with NetWare, other companies were also involved in networking, including Xerox and Datapoint.

In May of this year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. squelched Billings' claim against Novell. The court upheld the U.S. Patent Office's decision to invalidate his patent and thus free Novell to continue to sell NetWare.

Billings could have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but according to other stories in the press, decided not to, instead focusing on his work with WideBand, continuing with research into hydrogen-fueled automobiles, which he began as a chemical engineering graduate student, and the Church of Jesus Christ in Zion.

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