Microsoft Faces Damages Over NetMeeting Patent

Microsoft faces $62.3 million in damages after a jury’s
decision that the software giant willfully infringed on a patent held by
printing software player Imagexpo, LLC, in its NetMeeting whiteboarding
feature.

The lawsuit, brought against Microsoft in Oct. 2002 in federal court in
Richmond, Va., stemmed from charges that the company infringed on a patent
covering real-time conferencing. The patent is held by Imagexpo, a
subsidiary of industrial and flow technology concern SPX Corporation that develops remote softproofing and annotation software for the
printing industry.

That software centers around a tool that enables multi-person conferences
for the purpose of reviewing and editing prepress images. In its lawsuit,
Imagexpo claimed that the whiteboarding feature in Windows NetMeeting
infringed on the patent protecting that tool.

Microsoft spokespeople maintained the company had independently developed
the technology underlying NetMeeting, a chat and collaboration tool that has
been a part of Microsoft Windows for years.

“While we are disappointed with the jury’s verdict, we continue to stand
firm in our belief that there was no infringement of any kind on the
Imagexpo patent, and that the technologies in question are indeed
different,” said Microsoft spokesperson Stacy Drake. “As an intellectual
property company that has invested heavily in research and development, we
take patent infringement very seriously and respect the intellectual
property rights of others.”

Despite the jury’s findings, both sides say additional, unspecified legal
issues need to be decided before damages are actually awarded — or before
Microsoft decided to file an appeal.

Those lingering issues aside, it’s still unclear what the ramifications
of the suit will be. Imagexpo has not yet asked for an injunction, while
Microsoft said it has, for some time, planned to phase out NetMeeting in
favor of more modern technology.

Beginning in 2001, whiteboarding features have been built into the
Windows operating system, in connection with its Windows Messenger instant
messaging client. More recently, Microsoft debuted Office Live Meeting
2003, an offering based on its January acquisition of PlaceWare.

“Since purchasing PlaceWare, we have decided to focus our real-time
collaboration efforts around that technology,” she said. NetMeeting now
“doesn’t ship in Service Packs, and is not downloadable … so we’re not
sure what [Imagexpo] will do, since we’re retiring it anyway.”

Spokespeople from SPX and Imagexpo did not return requests for comment by
press time.

Christopher Saunders is managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.

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