ITC To Hear Microsoft-Alcatel Patent Dispute

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) opened a new front in the long running patent war between Microsoft and Alcatel-Lucent, agreeing today to hear Redmond’s unified communications technology infringement claims against the French telecom giant.

Microsoft  contends Alcatel-Lucent does not have a license to use the technology in its products and is seeking an import ban of certain Alcatel-Lucent products until the company obtains a Microsoft license.

According to the ITC, the systems and products at issue integrate the features of data networks and traditional telephone networks, allowing users to configure communications options in multiple ways from a single interface, such as a computer display.

Microsoft uses the technology in the company’s Communicator, Communications Server and Exchange Server. The Microsoft complaint claims the French telecom giant is using unlicensed versions of the technology in Alcatel-Lucent’s OmniPCX Communication Server, OmniTouch Unified Communication software suite and OmniVista server.

“We’re pleased that the ITC has agreed to review our case against Alcatel-Lucent. Microsoft has made repeated efforts to make sure that Alcatel-Lucent respects and acknowledges Microsoft’s protected innovations,” Microsoft spokesman Jack Evans said in an e-mail statement.

Joan Campion, a spokesman for Alcatel-Lucent, told, “We expected the ITC to look into this complaint and we will vigorously contest these claims.”

The case will be referred to an ITC administrative law judge, who will schedule and hold an evidentiary hearing. The judge will make an initial determination as to whether there is a violation. That decision is subject to final review by the ITC commissioners.

Last month, Alcatel-Lucent scored a major victory over Microsoft when a San Diego jury awarded a $1.52 billion judgment against Microsoft for infringing Alcatel-Lucent’s MP3 patents. If the jury award holds up, it will be the largest patent infringement ruling in U.S. history.

Microsoft is appealing the decision and the litigation could drag on for years.

The jury decided that Microsoft infringed two Alcatel-Lucent patents in the Windows Media Player, including the version in the new Vista operating system. The jury also decided that Microsoft did not willfully infringe since it had licensed the MP3 technology from the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS.

The decision may also clear the way for Alactel-Lucent to pursue legal actions against hundreds of companies that rely on MP3 and also licensed the technology from the Fraunhofer Institute, the German research institute that helped develop the MP3 audio compression technology along with Bell Labs, once a part of Lucent Technologies, which, in turn, later merged Alcatel.

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