Parts of JPEG patent rejected; Forgent to appeal

The US patent office has overturned some, but not all, of the claims in Forgent Networks' so-called JPEG patent.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected 19 of the 47 claims in a patent held by Forgent Networks, which the company has been using to assert licensing rights related to the JPEG digital image standard.

The USPTO reexamined the patent at the request of the Public Patent Foundation, a U.S. not-for-profit group that seeks to overturn what it sees as unfairly awarded patents. The foundation said it had found prior art -- or previous related inventions -- which made Forgent's patent invalid.

The foundation claimed a victory, saying the USPTO's decision, issued last Thursday, overturned the broadest claims in Forgent's patent. They include the first claim, describing "A method for processing digital signals ... to reduce the amount of data utilized."

Forgent, an intellectual property company based in Austin, Texas, said it was also pleased, however, noting that the patent office had upheld the majority of its claims. In a statement last week it said it would "vigorously defend" those that were rejected.

The patent is known as the '672 patent, an abbreviation of its U.S Patent No. 4,698,672. It describes a technique for compressing data by replacing strings of code that appear frequently with code strings of a shorter length. Forgent says the technique is employed in the JPEG format, used in digital cameras, printers and many other products.

It is currently suing about 30 companies to secure licensing deals for the technology, including Apple Computer, Eastman Kodak, Microsoft and TiVo, according to its statement. It has so far secured licensing deals with more than a dozen other companies that it sued, generating about US$105 million in revenue, it said.

Forgent's patent can be viewed by searching for its number the USPTO's Web site, at http://patft1.uspto.gov/netahtml/PTO/srchnum.htm

The Public Patent Foundation posted a PDF of the USPTO's decision, at http://www.pubpat.org/Protecting.htm#JPEG%20PATENT

Relatedly, Microsoft introduced a new image format at its WinHEC engineering conference last week. Called Windows Media Photo, it can preserve more of a photo's image details and do so at a higher compression level, according to Microsoft.

The technology will be built into Windows Vista and supported by Windows XP by way of a software add-on, the company said. It was unclear whether Microsoft plans to promote the technology as a replacement for JPEG.

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