JPEG Hits New Patent-Infringement Snag

Forgent Networks slaps 31 companies with lawsuits alleging patent infringement over compression technology it claims is core to the JPEG image standard.

Patent infringement issues surrounding the JPEG image standard resurfaced on Thursday after a small software vendor filed lawsuits against 31 companies ranging from Adobe Systems Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. to IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Forgent Networks Inc. said that it had filed two separate patent infringement lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, seeking injunctions against the use of its patented technology as well as damages. Forgent, through its subsidiary Compressions Labs Inc., holds a patent on digital image compression technology that company officials said is fundamental to the JPEG format, a file standard used throughout software applications, digital cameras and devices, and the Web.

Michael Noonan, director of investor relations for Austin, Texas-based Forgent, said the patented technology covers the algorithm used in JPEG to compress data for transport, encoding and decoding. Forgent had sought to reach licensing arrangements with the defendants in the lawsuit, he said.

"We felt at this time further discussions were not productive," he said. "They forced our hands, and we decided that litigation was the appropriate route."

The patent, No. 4,689,672, was issued 1987, but Forgent began seeking licenses to it about two years ago. In the middle of 2002 it reached a $16 million licensing deal with Sony, Noonan said. In all, it has reached deals with 30 companies totaling $90 million in licensing revenue.

The patent issues with JPEG first surfaced in 2002 following licensing agreements with Sony and another undisclosed Japanese consumer-electronics company. At that time, the JPEG, or Joint Photographic Experts Group, Committee said it would gather examples of prior art—inventions that predated the patent—in order to counter the patent-infringement claims.

JPEG committee members could not be immediately reached for comment on the lawsuits. A spokesman for Apple said the company would not comment on pending litigation, and officials at other companies could not be reached for comment.

On its Web site, the JPEG Committee includes a discussion of JPEG patent issues, noting the claims from 2002.

Forgent is the successor company to VTEL Corp. VTEL, in May 2001, spun off its videoconferencing products business and reformed as Forgent. VTEL had purchased Compression Labs in the mid-1990s, leaving the current-day Forgent with the patent portfolio. Forgent now develops and sells meeting-room scheduling software.

Noonan said the JPEG-related image compression patent is due to expire in October 2006, but that Forgent would be able to continue to seek claims of past infringement.

The other companies named in the lawsuits, according to Forgents announcement , are: Agfa Corp., Axis Communications Inc., Canon USA, Concord Camera Corp., Creative Labs Inc., Dell Inc., Eastman Kodak Co., Fuji Photo Film Co. USA, Fujitsu Computer Products of America, Gateway Inc., JASC Software, JVC Americas Corp., Kyocera Wireless Corp., Macromedia Inc., Matsushita Electric Corp. of America, Oce North America Inc., Onkyo Corp., PalmOne Inc., Panasonic Communications Corp. of America, Panasonic Mobile Communications Development Corp. of USA, Ricoh Corp., Riverdeep Inc., Savin Corp., Thomson S.A., Toshiba Corp. and Xerox Corp. (The list provided by Forgent did not include the name of the 31st company sued).

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