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Patent suits filed against monitor makers

Elonex IP Holdings and EIP Licensing file lawsuits against 22 computer monitor makers for alleged patent infringement.

Patent infringement lawsuits are testing the resolution of the computer monitor industry.

Elonex IP Holdings and EIP Licensing have filed lawsuits against 22 computer monitor makers for alleged patent infringement. Apple Computer, Compaq Computer and Gateway are among the companies being sued. The new lawsuits are similar to ones that Elonex IP Holdings and EIP filed three years ago against other big names in the computer industry.

The suits, filed Friday in the U.S. District Court in Delaware, allege that the defendants have infringed on three patents for reducing the power consumption of monitors when they're not in use. The patents were issued in 1995, 1997 and 1999.

Elonex IP Holdings and EIP, which are subsidiaries with England-based Elonex, assert that the patents in question were adopted without permission by an industry trade association called the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA).

The two plaintiffs allege that when manufacturers use the so-called Display Power Management Signaling standard, they effectively incorporate technology into their products that falls within the realm of the patents. As a result, the plaintiffs allege, the PC makers should pay royalties.

The defendants, however, may try to use VESA's bylaws as a defense. Many standards organizations require members to disclose intellectual property interests. If Elonex was a member of VESA and did not disclose its patents during the standards-setting process, the defendants can claim that they are not required to pay royalties.

VESA has not been named in the suit.

Elonex, Elonex IP Holdings and EIP are not members of VESA. VESA refused to comment about any prior memberships of the three companies, and Elonex representatives could not be contacted regarding membership within VESA.

According to a release from Elonex, the patents "enable PC systems to be energy efficient. Complying with energy conservation standards is an increasingly important feature of supplying PC systems to all government agencies and independent organizations worldwide who require compliance with reduced power consumption standards."

The suits are based on the same claims that Elonex IP Holdings and EIP used in 1998 to sue Dell Computer, Micron Electronics and Packard Bell NEC in Europe. Sony, Philips, Princeton Graphics and Diva Technologies, among others, were later sued as well.

According to Elonex IP Holdings and EIP, Dell and Sony recently agreed to settle their cases.

In addition, several manufacturers have recently agreed to license the power consumption technology, including some of the biggest names in the monitor business such as Samsung, Sharp, Sanyo and Hitachi.