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Microsoft Named In Patent Lawsuit

By Pey-Hua Hwang


MIT and Electronics for Imaging, Inc. have filed suit against 98 companies, including Microsoft Corp., for allegedly using patented image editing software.

The software was developed by MIT Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Professor William F. Schreiber and licensed exclusively to EFI.

Among the defendants named are Microsoft Corp., Polaroid Corp., and International Business Machines, Inc. The Associated Press originally reported that 94 companies were named in the suit, but officially, there are two separate lawsuits totaling 98 companies. The suits, Mass. Inst. Tech. v. Abacus Software and Mass. Inst. Tech. v. Gateway, were filed individually due to attorney conflicts of interest. MIT is the first named plaintiff on each suit.

However, according to Karin K. Rivard, MIT’s attorney for these particular suits, the main complaint was filed by EFI and MIT “is just cooperating with EFI.”

Schreiber cites Adobe precedent

The technology in question was invented by at team of researchers headed by Schreiber. Schreiber said that he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuits because although he no longer worked for EFI, they had contacted him earlier that they were thinking of filing the lawsuits.

Schreiber said he hopes that “when most of the companies that have been accused look at [the patent] carefully ... they’ll settle and not go to court.” In a past conflict with Adobe Systems, Inc. over the same imaging patent rights, Adobe “gulped and paid up,” he said.

If the case does go to court, Schreiber said, he will probably be deposed but not called as a witness because, as a recipient of a percentage of the revenue generated by the licensing of the patent, he has “an interest in the matter.”

EFI notified companies in Sept.

Jim Etheridge, EFI Vice President of Strategic Relations, said that the case began when EFI sent out letters to over 120 companies in September about paying licensing fees for the patent on the imaging software. Those companies who responded to the letter are not included in the lawsuits.

However, although lawsuits have now been filed, they have not yet been served. EFI sent out a second letter this week informing all the companies named in the lawsuits, in hopes that they will settle out of court. Etheridge said that the company wanted to communicate with others and “come to some business resolution.”

He also said that EFI filed the lawsuits simply as a means to protect the integrity of patents, due to the capital-intensive research and development process. “This isn’t personal, it’s just business,” Etheridge said.

Etheridge said he was optimistic about the outcome of the lawsuits. “We do our homework before we file a lawsuit,” he said, adding that EFI purchased each of the defendants’ products to verify the claims of patent infringement before suing.

He also said that the large number of defendants involved in the suit was for the sake of efficiency. “It was more efficient and more expedient to bring one lawsuit with one hundred companies in a central location than one hundred separate lawsuits,” he said.

Since the lawsuits have not yet been served, however, companies reached for comment either said they were unaware of the lawsuits or declined to comment.

Imaging technology in question

The technology in question is a color imaging method that can be applied to any system that produces color pictures. It is currently considered the industry standard. “Before this work, color was an art, not a science,” Schreiber said. “In my humble opinion this [development] revolutionized color printing.”

The actual patent in question (No. 4,500,919) can be accessed online at . It expires this year.

Keith J. Winstein contributed to the reporting of this story.