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Microsoft MP3 Ruling Could Spell Trouble for Other Companies
Friday, February 23rd, 2007 at 9:45 AM - by
The U.S. District court in San Diego, California, ruled that Microsoft must pay Alcatel-Lucent US$1.52 billion in damages for infringing on MP3 encoding and decoding patents. Should Microsoft lose an anticipated appeal on the ruling, it may mean more than a hit to the software company's bottom line. It could also mark the beginning of lawsuits against other companies that think they have properly licensed MP3 technology.
Computerworld reports that the Alcatel-Lucent lawsuit started in 2003 and originally claimed that Dell and Gateway Computer were infringing on 15 patents with technologies used in the Windows operating system. In an effort to discourage suits against companies that resell its operating system, Microsoft filed a declaratory action stating that it should be targeted with a suit. Alcatel-Lucent bit and sued Microsoft.
The court ruled that Microsoft's Windows operating system does infringe on Alcatel-Lucent patents that relate to MP3 technology. Microsoft contends that it properly licensed the technology for encoding audio files from Fraunhofer. The German company co-developed the technology with Bell Labs, which later became Lucent, and now is Alcatel-Lucent.
In a statement issued by Microsoft representatives, the company stated "We think this verdict is completely unsupported by the law or the facts. Like hundreds of other companies large and small, we believe that we properly licensed MP3 technology from its industry recognized licensor -- Fraunhofer."
Microsoft paid $16 million to Fraunhofer in exchange for a license to use MP3 technology. Other companies have paid licensing fees to Fraunhofer, and like Microsoft, assumed that they were legit to use MP3 technology.
Should the ruling stand, it could open the door for suits against other companies, including Apple, Sony, Creative, and more. Such a move on the part of Alcatel-Lucent could effectively throw a wrench into the digital music industry while licensing issues are sorted out. It may also push companies to consider alternatives to the MP3 format, like the AAC format Apple uses for songs sold through the iTunes Store, to avoid expensive legal costs and new MP3 licensing fees.
Alcatel-Lucent's battle with Microsoft over MP3 licensing isn't over yet. Microsoft is expected to file an appeal, which could drag the legal proceedings on for some time to come. If so, it may be months or years before who can legitimately sell licenses for the MP3 format is finally determined.
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