Kodak wins patent lawsuit against Sun

A federal jury in New York has dealt a legal blow to Sun Microsystems, ruling that Sun violated several patents held by Eastman Kodak Co. when it developed its Java technology, a Kodak spokeswoman confirmed on Monday.

The decision made in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York on Friday could prove costly for Sun when the jury reconvenes to determine damages this week.

Kodak has indicated that it will ask Sun for US$1.06 billion in lump-sum royalties.

Kodak initially sued Sun in 2002, claiming that during Sun's development of its Java programming language the company had violated three patents issued in the mid-1990s. Kodak acquired the patents related to object technologies from Wang Laboratories in 1997.

Sun originally dismissed the claims as without merit.

But because the patents relate to software construction techniques, they could have wide-ranging effects, according to Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff.

"It appears to be quite a broad patent claim whose effects could go beyond Java to (Microsoft's) .Net as well," Haff said.

Sun and Microsoft have been battling each other for some time over the adoption of their respective programming languages centered around Web applications, and patent claims could potentially trip up either player, Haff said.

Sun still has the opportunity to appeal the decision and is expected to wage a fierce battle, given the potential reach of the verdict and amount of damages being claimed. Although the company benefitted from a nearly US$2 billion settlement with Microsoft earlier this year, Sun is still under pressure to get its balance sheet in shape.

"Given Sun's current situation, a billion-dollar settlement would be quite damaging and anything that impeded Java as well would be quite harmful given that Sun has made Java a key pillar of its strategy going forward," Haff said.

Sun representatives weren't immediately available Monday to comment on the case.

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