EFI, MIT sue Microsoft, IBM, others over imaging patent

California-based software design company Electronics for Imaging Inc. (EFI) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) filed suit against 94 companies last week, including Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp. alleging infringement on their patented image-editing software, an EFI representative confirmed Monday.

EFI holds the patent for the software, which was developed by MIT professor William Schreiber, and has licensed it to some 20 companies over the last 10 years, including Apple Computer Inc. and Adobe Systems Inc., said EFI Vice President of Strategic Relations Jim Etheridge. Both EFI and MIT share royalties from the software licenses, which is why the institute was also named as a plaintiff in the suit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Texarkana Division, alleges that the 94 companies have illegally incorporated the software into a number of consumer devices, including digital cameras and photo scanners. The case was filed in the Texas court because it is a more central venue with a reputation for expediency in large cases, Etheridge said.

The plaintiffs want the defendants to pay back licensing fees before the case ever heads to trial, he said. Under law, those found guilty of patent violation can be held accountable for back fees of up to six years, Etheridge said.

"We are not trying to put anyone out of business or stop them from shipping their product. We just want our licensing money," said Etheridge.

The patent for the software expires this year and will then enter the public domain.

EFI sent out letters to the companies four to five months ago, making them aware of the patent infringement, and asking them to pay back royalty fees, Etheridge said. After receiving no response, the company decided to take legal action.

"I have a feeling they'll pay attention this time," he said. "But we are interested in resolving issues amicably."

Microsoft did not return phone calls regarding the suit Monday. Other defendants in the case include Lotus Software Group, Dell Computer Corp., Sony Electronics Inc., Olympus America Corp. and Polaroid Corp.

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