October 04, 2004

Kodak Wins Java Round One

Jury Rules for Kodak in Java Patent Dispute

By Darryl K. Taft
October 4, 2004

Eastman Kodak Co. won the first round of a Java lawsuit against Sun Microsystems Inc. that could impact Sun's bottom line and possibly threaten Microsoft's .Net platform.

A Rochester, N.Y., jury found Friday that Sun infringed on Kodak's patents when it created Java and released the technology in 1995. Kodak is based in Rochester and is the city's largest employer.


At issue are three patents that Kodak inherited when it acquired Wang Laboratories Inc. in 1997. Kodak claims that Java infringes on parts of the three patents.

"Kodak has made and continues to make substantial technology investments to ensure high-quality products," said James Blamphin, a spokesman for the company. "We are pleased that the court has validated our intellectual property rights protecting these valuable innovations for the benefit of our customers and shareholders."

One of the patents at issue indicates a means by which "two processes that are to cooperate in a data-interchange operation identify each other, and to identify data formats they have in common." And some observers say that, taken broadly, the same patents might be used to claim infringement by Microsoft's .Net platform.

PointerClick here to read about J2SE 5.0, aka Project Tiger, a new version of Java for servers and desktops.

Sun denied that it infringed on the Kodak patents during a three-week trial, and it will likely appeal the judgment. But this week, the trial will enter the penalties phase, where both sides will argue over what penalty should be imposed on Sun. Kodak is seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

Sun intends to vigorously defend its intellectual property, company spokeswoman May Petry said in a statement. "We are disappointed with the federal jury's decision and are examining our options as we prepare for the liability phase of a two-phase jury trial," the statement said.

"We intend to put on a vigorous defense and hope to reach a decision that will be in the best interest of shareholders, customers and Sun. We will also continue to vigorously protect and defend our IP when appropriate."

eWEEK.com Special Report: Java Futures

Rick Ross, president of Javalobby.org, said the case is far from over. "I was surprised that it was litigated so quickly, but maybe the real battle will happen in the court of appeals," said Ross, who testified for Sun in its antitrust suit against Microsoft that was settled earlier this year.

"And if Kodak prevails, then Kodak could possibly become the new Unisys, who held the entire Internet potentially liable for its patents on the LZW [Lempel-Ziv-Welch] compression that was used in the GIF image format."

PointerRead more here about the settlement between Sun and Microsoft.

Added Ross: "This could also get a public response similar to the Eolas patent case against Microsoft, because now the public has tuned in to the ominously broad scope of the Kodak claims, and we may see a general effort to demonstrate prior art and attack the validity of the Kodak patents in question."

Sources said both sides of the suit have been meeting with the judge to determine how the next phase will play out.

Kodak said it placed the value of its damages at more than $1 billion because that represents half of Sun's operating profit from systems sold between 1998 and 2001. The company is not seeking any kind of ownership claims regarding Java.

"We use Java and we will continue to use Java," Blamphin said.


Posted by Craig at October 4, 2004 11:46 PM