Patents on Graphical Software

Index of Selected Patents on Graphical Software

Adobe Macromedia Patent Disputes

  • 5,546,528. This is Adobe's Tabbed Palette patent, granted August 13, 1996 and entitled "Method of displaying multiple sets of information in the same area of a computer screen." Here is the abstract:

    A method for displaying on a computer screen multiple sets of information needed on a recurring basis, comprising the steps of: (1) Establishing an area on the computer screen in which the multiple sets of information are to be displayed, the established area having a maximum size which is substantially less than the entire area of the screen. (2) Providing within the established area a plurality of selection indicators, one for each of the multiple sets of information. (3) Selecting one of the multiple sets of information for display within the established area by pointing to one of the selection indicators within the established area, whereby the selected set of information will be substituted within the established area for the set of information previously being displayed therein. A selected set of information may also be moved out of the selected area by pointing to its selection indicator and dragging it away.

    Litigation Involving Adobe's Patent '528

    On August 10, 2000, Adobe Systems Inc. filed a Complaint for Patent Infringement against competitor Macromedia, Inc. in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware for alleged infringement of the '528 patent. Here is a copy of the original complaint (.pdf format).

    Adobe's patent infringement complaint centers around the "UI" -- or user interface -- of its software. Adobe alleged that several Macromedia programs -- including Flash, Dreamweaver, FreeHand and Fireworks incorporated UIs similar to Adobe's, in addition to using tabbed palettes.

    According to a September 27, 2000 Macromedia press release (referenced below), Adobe augmented its original infringement complaint in September 2000 by adding "an additional claim of infringement of U.S. Patent No. 6,084,597 by image rendering features of Macromedia Dreamweaver and Macromedia Flash products."

    Macromedia Countersuit

    Macromedia filed a countersuit against Adobe in the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware that alleged the invalidity of Adobe's '528 patent, and claimed that several of Adobe's software products infringed upon Macromedia patents.

    Macromedia's countersuit alleged that Adobe infringed three Macromedia patents:

    Also see:

    Unisys "Gif" Patent

  • 4,558,302. Unisys has patented a method for data compression called LZW (Lempel-Ziv-Welch), which is used in the ".gif" image file format (often used for web graphics). This patent -- entitled "High speed data compression and decompression apparatus and method" -- was issued by the U.S. PTO on December 10, 1985.

    Also see:

  • League for Programming Freedom Resources on patent 4,558,302.
  • The GIF Controversy: A Software Developer's Perspective
  • The Burn All .Gifs Page
  • The CompuServe/Unisys Gif Controversy

    IPIX "Fisheye" Patent

    5,185,667. This is Internet Pictures Corporation (IPIX)'s "fisheye" patent, granted on February 9, 1993 and entitled "Omniview motionless camera orientation system." (The '667 patent was re-issued on May 4, 1999 as RE36,207.) This patent is one of several IPIX patents covering the creation of panoramic "fisheye" images by remapping multiple photgraphs. Here is the abstract:

    A device for omnidirectional image viewing providing pan-and-tilt orientation, rotation, and magnification within a hemispherical field-of-view that utilizes no moving parts. The imaging device is based on the effect that the image from a fisheye lens, which produces a circular image of an entire hemispherical field-of-view, which can be mathematically corrected using high speed electronic circuitry. More specifically, an incoming fisheye image from any image acquisition source is captured in memory of the device, a transformation is performed for the viewing region of interest and viewing direction, and a corrected image is output as a video image signal for viewing, recording, or analysis. As a result, this device can accomplish the functions of pan, tilt, rotation, and zoom throughout a hemispherical field-of-view without the need for any mechanical mechanisms. The preferred embodiment of the image transformation device can provide corrected images at real-time rates, compatible with standard video equipment. The device can be used for any application where a conventional pan-and-tilt or orientation mechanism might be considered including inspection, monitoring, surveillance, and target acquisition.

    Litigation Involving IPIX Patents

    In 1996, IPIX sued Infinite Pictures Inc. for alleged infringement of IPIX's '667 patent. IPIX prevailed in an 1999 jury trial, winning one million in damages and a permanent injunction against the defendant. Infinite Pictures failed to obtain a new trial. Jim Phillips, IPIX's CEO, stated in a September 26, 2000 IPIX press release:

    "'This landmark case validates our patent portfolio and the federal court has stated loud and clear that iPIX technology is pioneering, unique, and protected ... A judicially tested and vindicated patent portfolio makes iPIX a much stronger company and gives us a tremendous advantage in penetrating new markets and growing our company.'"

    IPIX sued the Live Picture Corporation in 1997 for alleged patent infringement. The parties reached an out-of-court settlement. The aforementioned September 26, 2000 IPIX press release noted that Live Picture "agreed that the Internet Pictures patents were valid and enforceable. Live Picture also agreed to stop its use of fisheye lenses and remove these products from sale."

    According to IPIX's March 30, 2000 10-K form filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (referenced below), IPIX and several additional firms (Kodak, Nikon and Cendant) were named as defendents in a May 20, 1999 patent infringement suit. The plaintiff - Ford Oxaal - alleges that IPIX infringed upon his U.S. patent 5,903,782. Here is a description of the infringement suit from the aforementioned 10-K report:

    "On May 20, 1999, Mr. Oxaal filed a lawsuit against us, Kodak, Nikon and Cendant in the same court alleging that our technology infringes upon a patent claim for 360 (degrees) spherical visual technology held by him. Mr. Oxaal claims that this alleged infringement is deliberate and willful and is seeking treble damages against us in an unspecified amount plus interest, an accounting by us, costs and attorney's fees, in addition to a permanent injunction prohibiting the alleged infringement of his patent by us."

    In 1999, IPIX threatened Helmut Dersch, a German free-software developer, physics professor and author of the "Panorama Tools" program over alleged copyright infringement. (Panorama Tools allows the user to create spherical panoramic images, is licensed under the GNU Public License and distributed free by Dersch.) IPIX later relented. Although the IPIX/ Dersch affair did not involve patents per se, it served to infuriate photographers over IPIX's aggressive enforcement of its intellectual property and touched off an international IPIX boycott.

    Andover News columnist Jack Bryar commented on IPIX's enforcement of their intellectual property in a July 5, 2000 article (referenced below):

    "IPIX has also spent a great deal of time defending a set of patents that look increasingly dubious. The company filed a broadly-worded patent which the company claims gives it exclusive rights to any images captured using fish-eye lenses. It attacked the developers of a product called Photovista and won a large initial settlement. It then went after a German professor named Helmut Dersch, who developed an open source system called 'Panorama tools' for creating cylindrical, cube-shaped and bubble VRML images....

    One of the most intriguing aspects of the litigation is that it has brought into question whether or not there was both "prior art" and a prior patent granted for the core of IPIX's technology. Dan Slater, an imaging VP with a wealth of patents to his name, developed an image capturing system called Spherecam. Slater's technology appears to predate much of IPIX's. Technical documentation for his system is online, as are images he created using the Spherecam system. IPIX is also subject to a claim by Ford Oxaal, whose patent # 5,903,782 seems to cover much of the same ground as IPIX's patent, and who claims he showed his bubble viewer to Steve Zimmerman and Lee Martin well before they developed their own system."

    Also see:

  • The Stop Legal Terrorism: IPIX vs VR Developers page.
  • September 26, 2000. Federal Court Rules in Favor of iPIX in Patent Infringement Case. IPIX press release.
  • July 5, 2000. Jack Bryar. The IPIX Affair. Andover News.
  • June 5, 2000. Stephen Beale. Panorama developer under siege. MacWeek
  • March 30, 2000. IPIX 10-K Filing. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • September 17, 1999. Erik Espe. Immersed in controversy. Silicon Valley/ San Jose Business Journal.
  • August 3, 1999. David Binning. Hands off our tools - IPIX. I.T. News.
  • July 22, 1999. Craig Bicknell. IPIX: Our Patents Are Rock Solid. Wired News.
  • July 20, 1999. Craig Bicknell. Virtual Reality, Real Trouble. Wired News.
  • May 30, 1999. IPIX persecutes free software developer. Slashdot.
  • April 9, 1999. "IPIX attacks free German software". (from the League for Programming Freedom website).
  • The IPIX Boycott Page.
    Questions, comments and suggestions to Vergil Bushnell

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