Jury backs Kodak in Java patent dispute

/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal jury has backed Eastman Kodak Co. in a high-stakes, patent-infringement dispute with Sun Microsystems Inc. over the Silicon Valley company’s popular Java programming language.

After a three-week trial, jurors decided Friday that Sun Microsystems infringed on technology Kodak acquired when it bought Wang Laboratories Inc.’s imaging software business for $260 million in 1997.

The two-year-old lawsuit moves to the penalty phase this week, with Kodak seeking $1.06 billion in lump-sum royalties — which is equal to half of Sun Microsystems’ operating profit from sales of computer servers and storage equipment from January 1998 to June 2001.

Sun Microsystems, based in Santa Clara, Calif., made its name selling servers that tie desktop computers together and host Web sites. Java, which it developed and first introduced in 1995, allows software to run on a wide variety of computing platforms, regardless of the operating system and including cell phones and other portable devices.

Sun not only denied that any portions of Java infringe on Kodak’s patents but argued that the photography company’s patents were invalid. It promised “a vigorous defense” in the trial’s damages phase, which was scheduled to start Thursday.

Kodak’s patents describe a method by which a program can “ask for help” from another application to carry out certain computer functions — which is similar, it argued, to the way Java operates.

Kodak has in recent years been more assertive about protecting its intellectual property as it endeavors to turn hundreds of patents to its advantage in accelerating its transition from film photography into digital imaging.

“Kodak has and continues to make substantial technology investments to ensure high-quality products,” the company said in a statement Monday. “We are pleased that the court has validated Kodak’s intellectual property rights protecting these valuable innovations.”

Sun has been struggling since the dot-com collapse to bolster sales as systems based on inexpensive microprocessors and the Linux operating system become more powerful and more viable.

The company has earned little from Java.