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Bar code patents thrown out

A federal district court judge invalidates patents on bar code products--in a victory over one of technology's most prolific patent collectors.

A federal district court judge invalidated patents on bar code products--in a victory over one of the technology's most prolific patent collectors.

Philip Pro, chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, on Jan. 23 ruled against defendant the Lemelson Medical, Education & Research Foundation, calling the claims of 14 of its patents--some of which dated from the 1950s--invalid and unenforceable.

Plaintiffs in the case, consolidated in 2000 from two similar suits, were Symbol Technologies, Accu-sort Systems, Intermec Technologies, Metrologic Instruments, PSC, Teklogix, Zebra Technologies and Cognex. The plaintiffs are all makers of machine vision products or bar code scanners of the type used in retail stores.

Lemelson, a Nevada partnership, enforces 185 unexpired patents awarded to the late Jerome Lemelson, together with pending patent applications. Before his death in 1997, Lemelson proved a thorn in the side of many technology companies, including numerous semiconductor makers. The partnership has continued that work since his death.

In his decision, posted to the Cognex Web site, Pro ruled that Lemelson's patent claims were unenforceable, that the bar code companies didn't infringe on them because their products didn't meet the patents' limitations, and that the claims were invalid because they lacked "written description and enablement even if construed in the manner urged by Lemelson."