Palm: NCR Suit Without Merit

Palm Inc. said Monday that claims by NCR that it has patents covering handheld computers have no merit.

NCR sued Palm and Handspring late last week, claiming that two patents it received in 1987 cover a “portable personal terminal.” NCR asked the U.S. District Court in Delaware both for royalties and damages.

“Palm will defend itself vigorously,” said Stephen Yu, Palm’s general counsel in a statement. Handspring previously issued a similar response.

NCR also said in the court documents that it had previously notified both companies about the patent claims. Yu, however, said that such a contact never occurred.

Michael Bednarek, patent attorney and a partner for firm Shaw Pittman, said he was fairly sure NCR does not have a “patent that covers it the way they say they cover it.”

Bednarek said more and more patent infringement suits, like the one with NCR vs. Palm Inc. and Handspring Inc., are appearing, spawned by the evolving landscape of technological innovation. Bednarek also compared the idea of the handheld device to something out of a Dick Tracy comic book in that it is a device that has existed in theory for a while, but one the wasn’t made popular until the original equipment maunfacturers (OEMs) like Palm and Handspring actually crafted them.

The patent lawyer told Monday that although it is possible that the plaintiff firm had “a
portable terminal small enough to fit in the user’s hand,” on paper, that it’s case, if found invalid, could be indicative of “patent terrorism,” where a company sees a trend come in and they get a paper patent to cover it. Then, when a company becomes successful, the firm throws its patent claim out, claiming infringement.

“It’s the price of success,” Bednarek said. “The standard of [patent] disclosure is just not that high.”

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