Sun and Kodak Settle Patent Dispute Out of Court – Software Industry Trembles

Sun and Eastman Kodak have settled a long running patent dispute with an out of court payment. Kodak has been chasing Java creator Sun Microsystems for the past two years, claiming that Sun’s wrtie-once, run-anywhere programming platform violates three patents owned by the film company.

Kodak, who don’t produce programming platforms, had been after US$1.06 billion (€859 million) in damages – or roughly 50% of Sun’s entire profit from its hardware sales from the three years from 1998 to 2001. Instead, they accepted US$92 million (€74.6 million) from Sun, without Sun accepting or denying Kodak’s allegations. From their behaviour, it certainly looks like they just harassed Sun until they were paid to go away.

The dispute revolves around three patents that Kodak acquired in 1997 from Wang Laboratories – specifically the way that one program can call another one to assist. This, they say, was similar to the way that Java works. That’s it – there was no identical source code, no dispute over look and feel: it was entirely down to the concept of one program calling another one to help. It’s actually similar to the way that all software works.

Obviously there are concerns amongst software companies that such vague patent claims might destroy the entire industry as companies turn to each other to extract licensing fees for vague and invalid patent disputes. Even if a claim is eventually thrown out, the entire process can be crippling to companies.

I believe that Kodak’s behaviour in this case is especially shameful given that the only reason they have a business in the first place is because they have relied upon the innovations and free exchange of ideas – from generous and insightful people who created the industry before Kodak even arrived. Kodak are old hands at this game given that, in the 70s, they themselves infringed seven patents belonging to Polaroid – an action that took five years for Polaroid to win.

A history of the innovations in photography

Sun’s statement on the dispute resolution

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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?