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Sony dealt PlayStation setback in ruling

The game industry giant suffered a setback in its legal battle to kill a software program that allows Macs to run games designed for the PlayStation.

Game industry giant Sony suffered a setback in its legal battle to kill a software program that allows Macs to run games designed for the PlayStation.

Earlier, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco issued a preliminary injunction in favor of Sony that restricted Connectix from shipping a product called the Virtual Game Station. Virtual Game Station essentially lets Apple owners run games designed for Sony's PlayStation on their systems. The court said that Connectix's software infringed Sony's intellectual property.

This week, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision to "reverse and remand" the preliminary injunction. Sony will continue to pursue its case, but the ruling means that, for now, the San Mateo, Calif.-based Connectix can resume sales of the Macintosh version of the software. A Windows version will ship shortly, the company said.

The $30 program allows Macintosh users to play Sony PlayStation games on their computers instead of through Sony's game console. The product was received enthusiastically by Macintosh users last year but few were able to actually receive the product.

Shortly after Connectix released the Virtual Game Station in January 1999, the company was hit by a lawsuit from Sony Computer Entertainment of America alleging trademark and patent infringement.

Connectix developed its software after studying the PlayStation BIOS, although the company says that the application contains no Sony code.

The appeals court, in its ruling, reversed the lower court's findings, saying that its examination of the BIOS was protected by fair use and that the resulting program did not appear to violate Sony's rights.

"Intermediate copies made and used by Connectix during the course of its reverse engineering of the Sony BIOS were protected fair use, necessary to permit Connectix to make its non-infringing Virtual Game Station function with PlayStation games," the court wrote.

Being able to sell the software doesn't mean Connectix's fight is over. Sony is considering whether or not it will seek relief from the ruling, and a trial date is still pending.

"This decision seems to eliminate copyright protection for software that's embedded in machines," James Gilliland, lawyer for Sony Computer Entertainment, told the Associated Press. Gilliland said Sony invested a significant amount of money in the PlayStation. "They'll have to think twice before doing that again if emulator folks can come along with a very minor investment and create competitors this way," he said.

"We believe this landmark decision will have broad ramifications throughout the software and other media industries," said Roy McDonald, CEO of Connectix in a statement. "This ruling supports the clear goal of U.S. copyright law to allow fair use of prior works to create new intellectual property which broadens consumer choice."

Sony's suit against Connectix is tentatively scheduled to go to trial in June before the same judge who issued the injunction against Connectix last year.