The confusing and curious series of lawsuits started last fall when Lucent sued PC maker Gateway Inc. for allegedly making use of specific technologies without licensing them from Bell Labs. Months later, Lucent sued Dell Computer Corp. (Nasdaq: DELL) for pretty much the same thing. The patents in question relate to audio coding, telephony, video display, networking, user interface, and other technologies associated with Gateway's and Dell's computer systems.
If you want to geek out, the technologies include:
- Patent # 4,317,956 -- Remote chalkboard automatic cursor
- Patent # 4,763,356 -- Touch screen form entry system
- Patent # 4,617,676 -- Predictive communication system filtering arrangement
- Patent # 4,383,272 -- Video signal interpolation using motion estimation
- Patent # 4,958,226 -- Conditional motion compensated interpolation of digital motion video
- Patent # 4,582,956 -- Method and apparatus for displaying at a selected station special service information during a silent interval between ringing
- Patent # 4,439,759 -- Terminal independent color memory for a digital image display system
Lucent spokesman John Skalko explains that since it spun off from AT&T in 1996, it has sought to defend its intellectual property. And, even though some of the patents in question have expired, Lucent says it notified Gateway and Dell before time ran out. "We are asking for fair and reasonable compensation for use of our intellectual property," he says.
Why does Microsoft care? In one court document, Microsoft said it interprets both the Gateway and Dell lawsuits as having come, at least in part, from the use of its software in their PCs. It's also likely that Microsoft is bound by indemnity clauses that obligate it to protect its customers should they ever get in trouble selling its technology.
The bad news for Lucent is that its sparring with PC makers ended up threatening Microsoft, which has formidable legal resources, to say the least. In recent months, Lucent has settled its legal matters relatively quickly so as to avoid further distraction for a company that is working hard to mend its public image and shareholder confidence (see Lucent Pays Big to Settle Claims and Lucent to Settle With SEC). This one, however, may take a while, as the damages could soar into the millions of dollars -- and court documents show the company has demanded a jury trial.
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading