Apple, 30 other companies named in JPEG lawsuit

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Austin, Texas-based Forgent Networks announced late Thursday that its Compression Labs Inc. subsidiary has filed suit against 31 companies for patent infringement -- among them, Apple. Compression Labs alleges that these companies have infringed its U.S. Patent No. 4,698,672. The patent describes a "coding system for reducing redundancy" that Forgent says is integral in JPEG image compression.

A brief history

Neither Forgent nor Compression Labs, which it acquired in the late '90s, developed the JPEG image compression format. JPEG itself stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which is the name of the committee that created the standard in the mid-1980s. JPEG has been adopted worldwide as a means of compressing image data, and its popularity and use grew with the increased public popularity of the World Wide Web in the mid-90s.

"Essentially, [our patent] is the mathematical algorithm that JPEG uses to do the compression of data," Michael Noonan, Forgent Director of Investor Relations, told MacCentral. "So while we can't claim all the steps in JPEG and certainly do not, our technology is an integral part of that process."

Forgent has been asserting its patent since 2002. In July of that year, the company issued a press release stating that it had "sole and exclusive right to use and license all the claims under the '672 patent that implement JPEG in all 'fields of use' except in the satellite broadcast business." Since then, Forgent has been negotiating arrangements with each of the companies named in this new suit. The suit was provoked after that negotiation proved fruitless, said Noonan.

At the time, Forgent's claim elicited a response from the JPEG Committee. "It has always been a strong goal of the JPEG committee that its standards should be implementable in their baseline form without payment of royalty and license fees, and the committee would like to record their disappointment that some organisations appear to be working in conflict with this goal. Considerable time has been spent in committee in attempting to either arrange licensing on these terms, or in avoiding existing intellectual property, and many hundreds of organisations and academic communities have supported us in our work."

Over the past two years, Forgent has struck licensing deals for this patent with companies in Asia, Europe and the United States worth about $90 million. The highest-profile company to strike a deal with Forgent was Sony, which Noonan said paid out a one-time licensing fee worth about $16 million.

Apple has company

Companies beside Apple named in the suit include Adobe Systems Inc., Agfa Corp., Axis Communications Inc., Canon USA, Concord Camera Corp., Creative Labs Inc., Dell Inc., Eastman Kodak Co., Fuji Photo Film Co. U.S.A., Fujitsu Computer Products of America, Gateway Inc., HP, IBM, JASC Software, JVC Americas Corp., Kyocera Wireless Corp., Macromedia Inc., Matsushita Electric Corp. of America, Oce' North America Inc., Onkyo Corp., PalmOne Inc., Panasonic Communications Corp. of America, Panasonic Mobile Communications Development Corp. of USA, Ricoh Corp., Riverdeep Inc., Savin Corp., Thomson S.A., Toshiba Corp. and Xerox Corp.

These companies are hardly the only ones who develop products that read or write JPEG, however. Would smaller publishers and developers of software that support JPEG possibly be liable? "Presumably," answered Noonan, though he refused to comment further.

Apple declined to comment for this story.

This story, "Apple, 30 other companies named in JPEG lawsuit" was originally published by PCWorld.

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