Old Amtech owners Intermec make way-out demands on Georgia toller SRTA

May 4, 2011
By Peter Samuel

Intermec Inc, a former owner of Amtech, the toll tag segment of TransCore, recently demanded that the Georgia state toll authority (GaSRTA) buy Intermec readers or insist that their vendor buy license rights they claim to hold to multiprotocol readers. GSRTA is doing a transition from proprietary TransCore 6B 'eGo' sticker tags to open standard 6C tags.

To handle the transition a reader must be able to read both transponder types - it must be "multiprotocol."

The Atlanta GA area state toller has TransCore as their major front-end systems supplier for the long-established GA400 tollroad and are working on toll systems for toll lanes being built on I-85 on behalf of the state DOT. ETC is doing system integration for the I-85 toll project.

However after the Georgia toller ordered multiprotocol readers (Encompass 6) from TransCore, TransCore withdrew the offer. Something similar is happening in Washington state on the Tacoma Narrows and WA520 bridge.

TransCore and Washington State people both declined to discuss with us what's happening, saying negotiations are on-going on what will take the place of the withdrawn TransCore multiprotocol readers. There are unconfirmed reports that in tests the TransCore readers don't read 6C tags well enough, suggesting they are being withdrawn so that engineers can work to improve their 6C read rates.

In addition there are reports TransCore has cited Intellectual Property (IP) issues as somehow limiting multiprotocol readers for ISO 18000 6 series sticker tags, suggesting those patent/license issues as a reason for withdrawing their equipment from offer.

But Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority (GaSRTA) has been forthcoming on the TransCore and Intermec moves.

A letter (copy downloadable below) 2011/04/01 from Georgia SRTA (GaSTRA) to George McGraw, exec VP Operations TransCore refers to the company's withdrawal of its offer of multiprotocol (MP) readers and says the state toll agency is buying third party multiprotocol (MP) readers including Federal Signal's (formerly Sirit) MP readers.

"We specified open standard equipment" - GaSRTA

The letter signed by Gena L Evans, executive director of GaSRTA notes that the RFP they issued Aug 5 2009 made clear that the state toller wanted "only open protocol RFID devices" to allow multiple vendor selection for the initial procurement and for subsequent upgrades, and to support interoperability (with GDOT).

The letter describes a conversation with TransCore's McGraw in which he said he did not see any legal concern over the  multimode reader configuration Georgia SRTA proposed, and their proposal to read both 6B and 6C tags, which it said was integral to the success of the project.

They needed the multiprotocol readers to do a transition from the 6B eGo tags they already have in use on the GA400 tollroad to the more advanced 6C tags. These they plan to issue initially for the I-85 toll lanes, but later for the GA400 where they plan an eventual phaseout of the old 6Bs.

"Buy our readers or pay us license fees" - Intermec

On April 12 Gena Evans received a letter from Janis Harwell, a lawyer at Intermec saying that her company had patents covering readers of the type Georgia SRTA planned to buy from "firms other than TransCore" including Federal Signal adding: "Any firm selling RFID readers and/or transponders to (Georgia) SRTA needs to obtain a license under Intermec's RFID patents. A number of firms including TransCore have taken a license under our RFID patents but Federal Signal has not..." (see link to copy of letter below)

Harwell recommended they buy Intermec's own multiprotocol readers which she claimed "work extremely well with ATA, ISO 18000-6B and ISO 18000-6C tags."

Not advertised for road use, never bid in procurement

Under PRODUCTS on their website Intermec describe their readers as supply chain equipment for use in a close, stationary or slow speed environment inside warehouses and yards. The firm has never bid them for tolling jobs, so far as we can establish. Since Intermec sold Amtech to TransCore in the spring of 2000 Intermec has focussed on supply chain RFID leaving vehicle-to-roadside and highway applications to its spun-off subsidiary TransCore.

An April 24 2000 news release from TransCore announcing TransCore's purchase of Amtech from Intermec said that Intermec would concentrate on supply chain applications and that "TransCore acquires all Amtech's legacy RFID intellectual property and patents."

It continued: "TransCore becomes the exclusive provider of Intermec's Intellitag RFID technology in transportation markets."

What are these tolling readers that Intermec has suddenly decided would work "extremely well" for Georgia SRTA, we asked the lawyer-saleswoman Janis Harwell.

Substitute for TransCore's readers while they are fixed?

If TransCore's Encompass-6 readers aren't reading 6Cs maybe the industry needs these hithertoo-secret toll readers from Intermec - at least until TransCore can fix theirs?

After a couple of days of our inquiry by telephone and email Harwell responded citing the Intermec IF2 and IF6 fixed readers as the gear she was recommending to Georgia SRTA - completely outside Georgia's regular procurement process!

But Intermec's own specifications sheet says the IF2 reader is designed to operate in "enterprise and industrial environments," that is within yards and warehouses, not in roadside-vehicle use on a highway as required for electronic toll collection. 

There is no IF6 of Harwell's email in Intermec's product list. There is an IF61 which is also an "enterprise reader" a  reader within an "enterprise", a fancy term for a reader in a yard, not on a highway. That could explain why Intermec had never bid these readers in a toll Request for Proposals (RFP.)

We asked Harwell how much they were asking for their "licenses" and to specify what patents it is they hold that they maintain cover the 6B/6C multiprotocol readers.

On their "license" fees she responded: "Our royalty rates for licenses under our patents are confidential but they are quite reasonable.

Won't answer on which patents are infringed

She didn't answer the question as which of their patents she thought covered the multiprotocol reader GaSRTA is implementing, saying instead: "Intermec has over 150 RFID patents, including patents that specifically cover the use of RFID readers and tags to collect tolls from moving vehicles. The attached lists describe a small sample of our RFID patents but they will give you a feel for the depth and breadth of our portfolio.  Our royalty rates for licenses under our patents are confidential but they are quite reasonable."

We looked through the pdfs of claimed patents. It isn't clear that any of them cover the multiprotocol readers for using 6B and 6C tags for toll collection.

Federal Signal/Sirit tell us they have supplied some thousands of the multiprotocol 6B/6C readers to different customers, and they have never received any complaint from Intermec of any infringement of a patent.

We asked Intermec's Harwell:

"Federal Signal/Sirit tell me they have supplied large numbers of 6C readers and tags for some years now and have never heard from Intermec any claim of any patent rights...

"Why do you call on a small end-customer of Federal Signal/Sirit to insist on license purchase by Federal Signal/Sirit and yet never raise the issue with the vendor Federal Signal/Sirit itself?

"Explain to me please how such a demand on a small customer like GaSRTA in the absence of any demand on the vendor is more than a fraudulent attempt to interfere in a procurement with a totally baseless patent claim?"

We got no response after several days from Ms Harwell.

GaSRTA plows ahead

Georgia STRA is not falling for it.

Executive director Gena Evans gave a statement to TOLLROADSnews: "We are in receipt of Intermec's letter which recommends that we use multiprotocol readers from Intermec licensees.  The letter does not make reference to any specific patents...

"(Ga)SRTA is not concerned that our purchase and use of commercially available technology that is already deployed in many locations throughout the world, and selected through an open procurement process, raises any issues. We are strong believers in open protocol solutions and look forward to the toll industry's continued movement in this direction."

ISO committee chair Halliday

Steve Halliday, president of High Tech Aid and chair of the ISO committee covering 18000 series transponders told us there are a number of "IP" (intellectual property) claims surrounding the sticker tags. Halliday says it is usually not possible to make any judgment on the strength or weakness of IP claims until they are brought to court and adjudicated.

SOURCES:

- letter 2011-04-01 from GaSRTA to TransCore noting TransCore's withdrawal of their MP reader and an intention to go with Federal Signal reader:

http://www.tollroadsnews.com/sites/default/files/GaSRTA-TransCore.pdf

- letter Intermec to GaSRTA peddling their own readers or payment of license fees

http://www.tollroadsnews.com/sites/default/files/Intermec-GaSRTA.pdf

- our report April 2000 of TransCore buying Amtech from Intermec Technologies,  then a Unova company

http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/2634

- news announcement from TransCore saying TransCore's acquisition of Amtech from UNOVA in April 2000 would allow Intermec division to focus on supply chain RFID with TransCore acquiring all the technology in transportation and tolling:

http://www.transcore.com/newsroom/2000%20news/news000424.shtml


Intermec readers:

http://www.intermec.com/products/rfid/fixed_readers/index.aspx

- spec sheet for one of the readers Intermec suggests GaSRTA should buy:

http://www.intermec.com/public-files/product-profiles/en/IF2-spec-web.pdf

- earlier report on GA/I-85 HOT Lanes:

http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/4358

TOLLROADSnews 2011-05-03 ADDS/FIXES 2011-05-04 08:30


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