A Massachusetts company has sued the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Association for patent infringement, charging the project with stealing its designs for a multilingual keyboard.
Lagos Analysis, or Lancor, filed the lawsuit Thursday in the Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division in Nigeria, where the company owns a patent for a four shift-key keyboard, said Ade Oyegbola, Lancor's CEO.
OLPC illegally reverse-engineered the company's patented keyboard, which, with its four-shift keys, allows computers to better handle multiple languages, Oyegbola said. Lancor wants the Nigerian court to award "substantial" damages and issue a permanent injunction to prevent OLPC from manufacturing and selling its XO laptop.
Oyegbola said he hopes Lancor can reach a settlement with OLPC before the Nigerian court issues an injunction. OLPC could have "sought a license and gotten it for a minimal fee," he said. "We're hoping ... they can come to their senses, and we sit down and come to a reasonable settlement."
Lancor, based in Natick, Massachusetts, has tried to reach a settlement with OLPC but did not get a "reasonable response" from the project, Oyegbola said.
OLPC released a statement, saying it has not yet seen the legal filings in the case. "OLPC has the utmost respect for the rights of intellectual property owners," Robert Fadel, OLPC director of finance and operations, said in the statement. "To OLPC's knowledge, all of the intellectual property used in the XO Laptop is either owned by OLPC or properly licensed. Until we have a copy of the claim and have had time to review it, we will not be commenting further on the matter."
The goal of the nonprofit OLPC, founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte, is to donate laptops to children in developing nations. Through December 31, residents of the US and Canada can donate US$400 and get one laptop for themselves, while sending a second to a child overseas.
In addition to the Nigerian lawsuit, Lancor is looking at filing a patent lawsuit in US court within three weeks, if the case is not settled by then, Oyegbola said.
Lancor's Shift2 technology has been used to create region-specific keyboards called Konyin Multilingual Keyboards, according to the company. Lancor's lawsuit alleges that OLPC purchased two Konyin keyboards and used them to reverse-engineer the source codes for use in OLPC's XO Laptops.
Asked about the goals of OLPC, Nigerian citizen Oyegbola said he didn't have a strong opinion. Laptops can be useful to children in Africa, but many of them have more basic needs, he said.
"Children might not need a laptop," he said. "Maybe instead they need a classroom."