PC makers sued over JPEG patent claims

Forgent Networks sued 31 companies Thursday for allegedly infringing on a patent for a data compression technique used in the JPEG standard for digital images.

The companies include Apple Computer, Dell, Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Macromedia and Xerox. All were sued after Forgent was unable to negotiate a licensing agreement similar to one established with Sony, said Michael Noonan, director of investor relations with Forgent.

JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) files are used by a wide variety of hardware and software products to display digital images. The procedure used to compress digital images in order to create a JPEG file infringes on Forgent's patent for a similar method of digital image compression, the Austin, Texas, company alleged.

In 2002, Forgent announced it held this patent, and said it planned to seek licensing agreements from any company that sells products that compress or store digital images. Now that the company has decided to sue these 31 companies, it is seeking damages and an injunction prohibiting the companies from selling products with technology that infringes upon the patent, Noonan said.

The Independent JPEG Group (IJG) said in 2002 that Forgent's patent was related to a different type of compression technology than the one used by the JPEG standard. A representative from IJG could not immediately be reached for comment.

Sony paid Forgent a one-time fee of US$16 million in order to license the technology, Noonan said. Forgent has reached licensing agreements with over 30 companies and received $90 million in licensing revenue to this point, he said.

Microsoft was not part of this lawsuit, even though the Windows operating system and the Internet Explorer browser are two of the most prominent products that use JPEG technology. Forgent is in licensing discussions with Microsoft, but has not reached an agreement, Noonan said.

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