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Lawsuit flares up in wake of Mac OS 9 debut

Just days after its release, Apple's Mac OS 9 operating system is drawing controversy.

Just days after its release, Apple's Mac OS 9 operating system is drawing controversy.

Apple's latest operating system hit stores this weekend, with some retailers holding "Midnight Madness" sales. Priced at $99, the new software includes enhanced search technology, new security and password features, and other improvements.

Today, an existing trademark infringement lawsuit filed against the company was updated to include the new operating system. New York-based Imatec is claiming that the ColorSync 3.0 technology in Mac OS 9 infringes on patents held by the digital imaging firm.

Apple declined to comment on the specifics of the suit. "We don't comment on pending litigation," a company spokesperson said. "But we believe the claims are without merit."

Imatec filed a $1.1 billion lawsuit against Apple in February 1998, alleging that the Mac operating system infringed upon patents first filed by Imatec's president, Hanoch Shalit. Both companies have finished the discovery phase of the case, and the trial is expected to start in the next few months.

At issue in the original suit is Imatec's proprietary color management system, which it licenses to PC companies. Apple's new ColorSync technology continues to infringe on the patent, an Imatec spokesperson said, and also infringes upon Imatec's technology which matches the color on two monitors.

"In general terms, the patents cover how to match the color that you see on your computer monitor to the printed version," the spokesperson said. "[Apple's] ColorSync is using the exact same techniques as described in three separate patents [from Imatec]," the spokesperson said.

Patent infringement claims are growing increasingly common in the technology industry. Last week, Amazon filed suit against rival bookseller, alleging that the company stole its "one-click" sales technology.

Among computer makers, these suits are also flying, encompassing a variety of hardware and software issues. Two notable examples: Apple has gone after companies it claims illegally copied the iMac design, while HP, Xerox, and others are tangling in the courts over various aspects of printing technology.

In recent weeks, Apple's momentum has been slowed somewhat by legal problems and customer service woes. The company, which has staged a stunning financial turnaround driven by the popularity of the iMac computer, last month was sued by Microware, who alleged that Apple violated its "OS 9" trademark by naming its new operating system "OS 9."

More upsetting to Apple customers was the company's decision to cancel some early orders of its G4 computers in the face of processor supply problems and effectively raise prices on some orders. After numerous complaints, Apple reversed its decision, although customers loudly decried what they called shoddy customer service.

The inclusion of the Mac OS 9 ColorSync technology in the suit may have implications on the amount of damages Imatec is entitled to, the company spokesperson said. Because the new alleged infringement comes after the original suit, "We will be able to prove willful infringement that could lead to triple damages," the spokesperson said.