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Adobe Sues Macromedia

A few hours after Adobe Systems Inc. sued Macromedia Inc. for patent infringement, the smaller rival issued a statement refuting the central issues.

The third largest U.S. software maker filed the suit Thursday afternoon in the U.S. District Court of Delaware against Macromedia for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,546,528, granted in 1996. This covers Adobe's "tabbed palette" patent, which is Adobe's user interface for displaying multiple sets of information on the computer screen.

The suit said Macromedia was given no right to employ such technology, which the plaintiff claims is scheduled to roll out as a feature in Macromedia's Flash 5.0 software, due in September.

Adobe is seeking an injunction and unspecified damages.

Macromedia said Adobe's patent is invalid and unenforceable. Macromedia claims it advised Adobe of this belief when first contacted by them in 1996, and readvised them when they last contacted Macromedia in May, 1999.

However, Adobe's President Bruce Chizen said his firm had asked its competitor several times of the infringement.

"Adobe will not be the R&D department for its competitors," Chizen said in a statement issued Thursday. "Our patent and other aspects of our user interface are key to the user experience and functionality of our products; they are essential to differentiate our products and brand from others."

While Macromedia insisted Adobe's patent is invalid under the "prior art" clause, which says a patent may be invalid when something published that is similar exists that predates the patent, Adobe spokesperson Linda White said all relevant prior art was disclosed.

White also said Adobe waited as long as it could before filing suit, but that her company warned Macromedia several times between 1996 and 2000 that the smaller firm was infringing by copying image editing products such as X-RES and applications such as FreeHand. White said Adobe is confident the court will find in its favor.

"We wouldn't have filed if we didn't think we could win," White said. "It's costly and distracting to go to court. We just didn't have a choice."

White said it was when Macromedia hinted at various conferences that it was releasing its new Flash 5.0 with the same technology Adobe uses that the larger firm made up its mind to file suit because Macromedia was slicing into its competitive advantage.

Macromedia did not return calls Friday afternoon.

But, one must wonder, how will all of this come to pass?

Steven Dellett, a patent lawyer at the Dallas-based Fulbright & Jaworski, said it was hard to tell how the suit would shake down because very few Internet-related patent suits have made it all the way through litigation.

"The significance of this patent depends on whether or not there are commercially viable alternatives for Macromedia," Dellett said. "They have to decide whether it is worth the cost of litigation to fight it, or if they want to find other solutions."

As for Macromedia's "prior art" argument, Dellett said the claim is used in nearly every patent case.

"Parties may also rexamine the patent," he said. "In this particular case, Adobe's patent is very brief and not very technical -- only two-and-a-half pages long, which is unusual. This may call into question the validity and may be a cause for rexamination."

As for the duration of the case, Dellett said Delaware's judges have seen a lot of patent disputes, so this may move the case along fairly quickly.