Palm to Appeal Graffiti Patent Ruling

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2002-01-07

Handheld computing company Palm Inc. is appealing a recent court ruling that says Palms Graffiti handwriting recognition technology infringes on a U.S. patent owned by Xerox Corp.

"We assert that the Graffiti handwriting recognition technology does not infringe the Xerox patent and that Palm has strong arguments to support its defense," said Eric Benhamou, interim chairman and CEO of Palm, in Santa Clara, Calif., in a statement. "Palm will defend itself vigorously and does not intend for this litigation to affect its business strategy or business model nor that of its licensees."

But industry observers said losing Graffiti may not hurt Palm that badly, as many users are giving up handwriting recognition technology in favor of keyboards. "Graffiti, although it has some usefulness, is really fading into the sunset, anyway," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for mobile computing at Alliance Consulting, in Philadelphia, and an eWeek Corporate Partner. "If you look at the number of vendors who are adding keyboard add-on stuff for both the Palm [OS] and Pocket PC, it almost screams to be an add-on device."

Late last month, Judge Michael Telesca in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York ruled that Xeroxs patent "is valid and enforceable" and that Graffiti infringed on it.

In April 1997, Xerox sued U.S. Robotics Inc., which owned Palm. USR was later acquired by 3Com Corp., and Palm was spun off as a separate company. Xerox claimed the handwriting recognition technology marketed as Graffiti and used in Palm OS devices infringed on a patent Xerox received on Jan. 21, 1997, for its Unistrokes technology.

The decision ends the liability portion of the case, and now Xerox is free to seek damages. Xerox may try to stop Palm from using Graffiti or make Palm license handwriting recognition technology from Xerox, according to officials at the Rochester, N.Y., company.

Rabuck noted that Palm is not the only company to have embraced handwriting recognition technology since Xerox secured the Unistrokes patent.

"If Palm is guilty, then so is [Microsoft Corp.s] Pocket PC," Rabuck said. "Palm is the easy first target."

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