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Graphics patent suit targets Dell, others

Forgent Networks targets 31 computer and electronics vendors, seeking damages related to its claim to technology underlying the widespread JPEG file format.

Forgent Networks has launched a patent infringement lawsuit against 31 major computer and electronics vendors, seeking damages related to its claim to the technology underlying the widespread JPEG file format.

The suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, contends that Forgent deserves royalties from the hardware and software makers based on its patent holdings that cover the compression technology behind JPEG. The format is one of the most popular methods for compressing and sharing images on the Internet.

Austin, Texas-based Forgent, which makes scheduling software, filed the suit through its Compression Labs subsidiary. The defendants read like a Who's Who list of the hardware business, including Apple Computer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, along with a slew of well-known electronics manufacturers such as Canon, Creative Labs, JVC and Xerox. Several software makers are also named in the suit, including Adobe Systems and Macromedia.

Forgent representatives said the company previously attempted to strike licensing deals with all of the vendors named in the suit but felt the process had reached a dead end.

"We've been pursuing negotiations for over a year, but that effort was no longer moving forward," said Michael Noonan, a company spokesman. "Litigation was a last resort and unfortunate but necessary."

Forgent has engaged in an aggressive pursuit of royalties related to JPEG since first announcing its claim to the patents in July 2002. In February 2003, the software maker won a $16 million licensing agreement from Sony based on U.S. Patent No. 4,698,672.

The company asserts that it has generated more than $90 million in licensing fees related to the patent over the last two years. Noonan said that one of the companies from which Forgent was created, Vtel, had earlier purchased the patent rights, which were granted in 1987.

The claim to the JPEG standard has long irked the Joint Photographic Experts Group committee, which has worked to create standards related to the file format since it was devised in 1986. When the company first staked its claim to JPEG, the committee denounced attempts to derive fees from the standard and expressed disappointment at Forgent's attempts to do so. The U.K.-based group could not immediately be reached for comment on the latest suit.

The actual patent held by Forgent relates to digital image compression; fields of use include any device, such as digital cameras, used to compress, store, manipulate, print or transmit digital still images. Forgent also asserts that its patent rights extend beyond digital cameras to include other devices such as personal digital assistants, cell phones, printers and scanners.

"We believe we will prevail in this litigation as the '672 patent is valid, enforceable and infringed," Richard Snyder, chief executive of Forgent, said in a statement. "It's unfortunate that despite the many opportunities these companies have had to license the patent, they have all declined to participate, leaving us no alternative but to litigate."