October 4, 2004 6:08 AM PDT

Kodak wins Java patent suit

Eastman Kodak has won a controversial lawsuit in which it claimed Sun Microsystems had infringed several of its patents with its Java programming language.

A federal jury on Friday ruled in favor of Kodak, and the photography giant is now seeking damages of $1 billion from Sun.

The case has outraged some opponents of software patents, who claim it is a textbook example of why software should not be patentable.

Kodak's case centered on three patents that it bought from Wang Laboratories in 1997, several years after Java was created. These patents--numbers 5,206,951, 5,421,012, and 5,226,161--referred to the integration of data between object managers, and between data managers, and to the integration of different programs that were manipulating data of different types.

The lawsuit was filed in February 2002 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York.

Kodak argued in court that these patents covered the method where an application "asked for help" from another application--such as in Java's object-oriented programming language.

Kodak could not immediately be contacted for comment. According to a report in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on Friday, the company said it was "pleased that the court has validated Kodak's intellectual property rights."

Critics, though, have claimed that these patents should never have been granted, as they appear to cover one of the basic tenets of modern computing: the interaction between different programs.

Pamela Jones, who runs Groklaw--a Web site devoted to legal issues in the technology sector--has been flooded with comments since the decision was made, mostly from people opposing it. Jones herself believes the case could have disastrous consequences.

"Software patents will destroy the industry in the U.S.," wrote Jones on Sunday. "The rest of the world will out-innovate U.S. companies, because they won't be running with the patent ball-and-chain attached to their ankles, holding them back.

"Protect your software with copyright and trade secrets," she continued, "but using patents for software inevitably blocks progress. If you must have it, rope it off severely so it doesn't hurt anyone like this. At a minimum, patents that aren't actively being used by the patent holder in any way in any product shouldn't be available as a weapon against a company actively bringing an idea to fruition and use."

The European Union is currently moving towards bringing in a system that would allow some software patenting, although this has not yet been ratified.

Opponents of software patents have been lobbying for some patents to be revoked.

Last week, the U.S. Patent Office issued a preliminary rejection for a patent previously granted to Microsoft for its Windows FAT file format.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Against Software Patents and full rational
Read "Against Software Patents" By The League for Programming Freedom
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/Patents/against-software-patents.html" target="_newWindow">http://lpf.ai.mit.edu/Patents/against-software-patents.html</a>
It explains why software should be treated differently to other technology.

The above paper was refered to by Bill Gates in his 1991 "Challenges and Strategy" Memo
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://discuss.sarahsbookstores.com/Bill_Gates_Challenges_And_Strategy_Memo" target="_newWindow">http://discuss.sarahsbookstores.com/Bill_Gates_Challenges_And_Strategy_Memo</a>
[i]PATENTS: If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today. I feel certain that some large company will patent some obvious thing related to interface, object orientation, algorithm, application extension or other crucial technique. If we assume this company has no need of any of our patents then the have a 17-year right to take as much of our profits as they want. The solution to this is patent exchanges with large companies and patenting as much as we can. Amazingly we havn't done any patent exchanges tha I am aware of. Amazingly we havn't found a way to use our licensing position to avoid having our own customers cause patent problems for us. I know these aren't simply problems but they deserve more effort by both Legal and other groups. For example we need to do a patent exchange with HP as part of our new relationship. In many application categories straighforward thinking ahead allows you to come up with patentable ideas. A recent paper from the League for Programming Freedom (available from the Legal department) explains some problems with the way patents are applied to software.[/i]

Even using patent exchange agreements, Patents are inherently bad for software industy.

Business methord and software patents are detrimental to the software industry as a whole, but it is also one of the major driving forces to an interesting trend amongst most of the major IT vendors.

Applying game theory to long term software industry market, for both open and proprietary vendors, based on software patents...

1) Small software developers are unlikely to benefit from the overall balance of payments from licensing of their own and other vendors software patent portfolios, since other software vendors are just as likely to hold other software patents that the developer uses in his own products.

2) Larger software vendors are unlikely to benefit from payments from licensing of their software patent portfolio, as per above small sofware developers plus the software vendor is likely to hold the lion's share of the sofware target market, profit from software patent licensing will be much smaller in proportion to the overall sales of the vendors own products.

3) Third party intellectual property "holding companies", that do not actively participate in selling actual software, are the only class of organization that can benefit from licensing of their software patent portfolios. In most cases these entities have a very tenuous relationship to the ongoing development of the software methords patented.

In 1981 US courts ruled that software and business methord could, without legislation ot the contrary, be patented. From 1981 to 1989, with a few exceptions the entire IT industry just ignored the issue of software patents.

As Bill Gates rightly stated " If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented, and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today". The Silicon valley revolution would not have taken place. From 1991 to 1997, the major software vendors slowly began build software patent portfolios and entering into cross licensing arrangements and most of the smaller vendors still ignored the issue entirely.

From 1997 on, driven by the greed of the Venture capitalists of the DotCom era, vendors and other groups began gobbling up businesses based not upon the current business viability, but the so-called intellectual property the business held. Most in the software industry still ignored these third party parasites, but larger vendor also began expanding their software patent portfolios.

Complex cross licensing arangements are increasingly becoming a legal quagmire. Microsoft is facing a number of lawsuits from companies which Microsoft did enter into a formal relationship, for example Timeline Inc
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/53/29419.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/53/29419.html</a>

Kodak had a formal relationship with Sun and the SCO Group is also suing IBM based upon the exact same class of legal cross licensing relationship that Bill Gates suggested as a solution to patents back in 1991.

While software patents remain a threat to the entire software industry, including Linux, the patent issue is pushing many companies, including IBM, HP, SUN, Oracle, SAP and Novell are turning to a simpler form of cross licensing arrangement - the GNU General Public License, or GPL and LGPL.

Only GPL and LGPL like so-called "viral" licenses effectively grants all downstream users the right to freely use the sofware. A license that even the largest of patent portfolio holders, such as IBM, are adopting to collaboratively develop new software. This, along with customer demand, is the major reason that Linux is being widely adopted and not one or more of the BSD based distributions.
Posted by David Mohring (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your logic sounds like communism. If I invent something, I have the right to patent it and make profit from it regardless of whether it is useful to anybody else or not. Removing the right to patent software inventions will simply stifle research and development, as it reduces the profit from licensing technology. If you can't think of a NEW way to build your software, then you should pay dues to the people who invented the methods you are using. Patents encourage people to innovate rather than replicate.

Besides, patented proprietary technology was the base of funding for the world's first private spacecraft that happened to win the X-Prize just today. Nobody ever generated enough revenue from OpenSource to do something like that.

Software is not an endpoint. If profit can be made from software, then technology will have the funding it needs to continually advance. When you remove profits from software, you make software the endpoint. You have it, you can use it, but that's about it. When you can sell and license your software, you can generate revenues to fund countless new endeavors.

By continuing the fight against commercial proprietary software through the restructuring of the patent system, forced acceptance of open-source systems, etc., you reduce the revenue that is generated from software sales and effectivelly kill that commercial market. Without continued revenues, there is no incentive or capital available for innovation. Instead, that money must come from other operations. Bottom line... you eliminate the software market, you eliminate profits. Those who hate Microsoft love the idea because it would spell the end of MS. Those with any economic understanding whatsoever see the destruction of a market as detrimental on a global scale.

Fanatical Microsoft haters love to claim that Microsoft "stole" concepts like the mouse and GUI... yet at the same time they claim patents are unfair. Go figure. When they want to copy your software, patents are evil. When their competitor acquires unpatented technology, they let loose with accusations of theft.
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
What about Microsoft?
Would this also mean that Kodak may go after Microsoft for it's .Net use of how applications communicate with one another? Has Kodak had Microsoft on their target list?
Posted by RFM22 (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Worthless patents like the Eolas one.
This article didn't provide the full quote from Kodak but here it is :
"Kodak has and continues to make substantial technology investments to ensure high-quality products. We are pleased that the court has validated Kodak's intellectual property rights protecting these valuable innovations."

Kodak buys 3 worthless patents they call valuable innovations and uses that to describe their substantial technology investment !!!!!

That explains why they are going down the tubes since digital photography took off. Hey, I am going to sell all my assets to buy Kodak stock.... NOT :) :) :)
Posted by cbazza (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Simple reason why software patents shouldnt be allowed
because these damn companies instead of innovating are spending 3/4 of their resources on lawyers... i agree somethngs should be locked up... but otherwise its hurting everything else
Posted by volterwd (466 comments )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.