Fantastic new business model: start a company, but don’t bother producing anything. This is the Age of the Lawsuit! Acquire another company’s intellectual property and sue the pants off of anyone else using code that even faintly smells of your new patents.
In a lawsuit strikingly reminiscent to the current SCO flap, the JPEG image format is under attack by a 300-person strong scheduling software developer (not that suitability or appropriateness would ever come into play in a patent dispute).
Forgent Networks of Austin, TX announced it was suing 31 major hardware and software vendors, including the likes of Canon, Apple, Adobe and HP. Mentioned in the article but not underlined in big red letters is the fact that since they’ve started ‘licensing’ this patent in 2002, over 30 companies have deemed it enough of a threat to pony up a combined $90 million.
Of course, this isn’t the first time a popular image format has come under fire. The GIF format was built on top of a patent owned by Unisys, who promised they’d never actually take advantage of that for profit, and naturally went back on their word when it looked like they needed the money.
What does this new dispute mean for us, the users and consumers of JPEG? It’s too early to say. If the large companies named in the lawsuit pony up a settlement, what’s to stop Forgent from coming after individual users with a new-money afterglow? If the large companies named in the lawsuit fight it and win, what’s to stop Forgent from coming after individual users in embittered retaliation? There are a lot of variables here which can go in many different ways, so the only sure thing is that this is one to watch.