RealTime IT News

Sun's Java Infringes on Kodak Patents

A jury in Rochester, N.Y., found Sun Microsystems liable for using patented technology owned by photography company Eastman Kodak in the Java programming language.

The Friday verdict at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York ruled Sun had violated all counts in the patent infringement case. Tuesday, the jury will decide how much to penalize the company. Kodak is asking for $1.6 billion in damages.

Officials at the Rochester-based company were pleased with the ruling, calling the verdict a win for intellectual property (IP) rights.

"Kodak has and continues to make substantial technology investments to ensure high-quality products," a statement by the company stated. "We are pleased that the court has validated Kodak's [IP] rights protecting these valuable innovations for the benefit of our customers and shareholders."

Officials at Sun were not available for comment at press time.

According to Jim Blamphin, a spokesperson at Kodak, the case centers on three patents currently on file at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) -- #5,226,161, #5,206,951 and #5,421,012 -- that were originally owned by Wang Laboratories, which Kodak acquired in 1997.

The three patents, filed between April 1991 and May 1993, focus on object managers that handle the communications between two or more applications to identify each other and the data formats the two applications have in common.

Kodak's lawsuit maintains Sun violated a Technology License and Distribution Agreement (TLDA) signed by the companies in September 1996 by distributing and using Java's Remote Method Invocation (RMI), Interface Definition Language (IDL) and Java Applet Environment (JAE), which touch on the three patents.

According to court documents, however, Sun maintains Kodak has received periodic updates to the Java language and must have seen RMI, IDL and JAE at least once in that period of time.

Lawyers for the Santa Clara, Calif., software company will likely point that out during the damage assessment phase of the trial. A trial brief, along with a proposed jury charge on damages and an expert witness list, is due in Judge Michael Telesca's office by the end of the day.

The ramifications of the ruling are significant, said Steve O'Grady of research outfit Red Monk, and will likely prompt other companies to go through their own patents in search of a big payoff. Kodak's case, he said, is just a continuation of lawsuits like the $5 billion case against IBM filed by the SCO Group , where financially-distressed companies look for revenue help by seeking redress in the courts for patent infringement.

"Essentially, patent litigation is what's being viewed as an additional revenue source, so I would imagine a lot of firms out there beyond Kodak are combing through their respective patent libraries and assets, looking for opportunities for lawsuits just like this," O'Grady said. "It speaks to the problems that I see are inherent in patenting software."

While O'Grady hasn't studied the patents in depth, he said the ruling could pave the way for other development platforms, including the popular .NET platform owned by software giant Microsoft .

"From all the reports I've seen [the patents] talk about when an application 'calls for help' and that's very applicable to a number of other technologies -- .NET I would say being first and foremost," he said.

Microsoft officials declined to comment. Blamphin would not comment on any topics outside the scope of the pending case.