RealTime IT News

Dirty Laundry Aired with Lawsuits?

Thursday was chock full of lawsuit filings or announcements across the high-tech sector, including one in which the entire state of New York fireda legal bullet at security firm Network Associates for violating free speech laws. But the real fireworks may be in two patent infringement cases -- InterTrust Technologies Corp. vs. Microsoft Corp. and OpenTV vs. chief rival Liberate Technologies.

One battle is new; one is not. But both will likely be dragged out for years if the parties can't reach comfortable levels of understanding. In the InterTrust vs. Microsoft issue, the digital rights management (DRM) firm filed a second patent infringement lawsuit against the software giant in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. This one alleges that Microsoft's "Plug and Play" Driver Certification Program bears striking technological resemblance to one of its own patents (U.S. patent No. 6,157,721 ('721)) for the same subject. InterTrust said it seeks "unspecified damages and an injunction prohibiting Microsoft's use of InterTrust's patented technology."

Drivers are software that allow computer peripherals connect with computers. Now, while most press releases concerning lawsuit are nearly bare of details, InterTrust fleshed out the importance of the driver program to Windows XP and other MS operating system products to make its case. The Santa Clara, Calif. firm claims the driver certification that bares a likeness to its patent is central to Microsoft's "Trustworthy Computing" pitch to hawk XP, as outlined by Chief Software Architect Bill Gates.

"Trustworthy Computing is computing that is as available, reliable and secure as electricity, water services and telephony," Gates said in an open e-mail to staff. "Today, in the developed world, we do not worry about electricity and water services being available... Computing falls well short of this, ranging from the individual user who isn't willing to add a new application because it might destabilize their system, to a corporation that moves slowly to embrace e-business because today's platforms don't make the grade."

So, InterTrust said, Gates' take on the certification program hints at basic principles in its patent, which was filed in August 1996 and issued in December 2000. Patent 721 was designed to solve the Internet computing issue of how end-users can receive, use and share software executables and data from many different sources while maintaining a trustworthy computing environment.

In a separate legal skirmish, InterTrust in April 2001 sued Microsoft, claiming the behemoth infringed on seven of its patents and at least fifty separate patent claims relating to DRM functionality, such as Microsoft Media Player, eBook reader, Digital Asset Server, and the Windows XP product activation process. In September 2001, InterTrust added three new patents and the claim that Microsoft's .NET initiative infringes numerous InterTrust patents. A Markman hearing, which interprets the claims of those seven InterTrust patents, is currently scheduled for September 2002.

Meanwhile, in the same California court, Mountain View, Calif.'s OpenTV filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Liberate Technologies , claiming that the San Carlos, Calif. firm infringes OpenTV's U.S. patent numbers 5,819,034 and 5,563,648,. These patents, filed before 1994, refer to the distribution of interactive TV programs on a set-top box, or "carouseling," and the "life cycle," or function, of an interactive TV application, respectively.

OpenTV General Counsel Jesse Berg said: "This technology and the related intellectual property are key business assets of OpenTV, and we believe that the Company has a duty to its shareholders to protect the value of these assets."

Liberate defended itself in a public statement, saying OpenTV's market failures are the genesis for the suit.

"We are seeing an increasing abuse of software patent litigation attempting to accomplish in the courts what competitors have failed to achieve in the marketplace," said Mitchell Kertzman, CEO of Liberate Technologies. "While we have not yet reviewed the suit in detail, we have no reason to believe that we infringe the patents cited in the press release or that these patents are even valid. Liberate has a strong foundation of intellectual property from unique work developed by our engineering teams and we will defend this suit vigorously."

Like InterTrust vs. Microsoft, OpenTV is seeking an injunction and monetary damages.