The Public Patent Foundation has filed a request to challenge the JPEG patent on the basis of prior art. However, it also asks the US Patent Office to take notice of Compression Labs' "aggressive assertion" of its patent, which it says is causing substantial public harm.
Here's the Request [PDF]. I asked Dan Ravicher, Executive Director of PubPat to please explain the chart, and here's his answer:
Traditional patent analysis takes place through what are known as "claim charts", which are along the lines of the two column chart in my request. One column is for the claim at issue and the other column is for discussion of prior art. Claim charts can also have columns for definition of terms (you'll see I include the definition of terms, where relevant, in the column with the prior art discussion) and/or for infringement analysis. Claim charts are typically required in any litigation and are a common tool used by patent attorneys and judges to manage the analysis of patent claims. Separate rows are allocated for separate elements within a claim, of if a claim is simple enough, for the entire claim.
So the point of it is to show that there was nothing original about the JPEG patent claims, and thus it should never have issued and should now be revoked. But notice the specificity required to challenge a patent with prior art. We can use this Request as an opportunity to learn the process, so when it comes time to search for prior art, should some rainy day arrive, we'll be aware of the subtleties involved in being successful.
The patent system is so messed up at the moment that dealing with it requires a multi-pronged effort, and so patent pools, online databases, setting up entitites to buy up patents so Compression Labs-type companies can't get their hands on them, and challenging previously issued patents are all necessary parts of that effort. No single piece is enough, but they work together. The USPTO issues patents that are laughable, and somebody has to do something to clean up the mess. There is a new one: Patent
It's a patent for what appears to be warp-drive, for using
"quantized vortices of lattice ions projecting a
gravitomagnetic field that forms a spacetime curvature anomaly." Um, beam me up, Scotty.
As you know, I think software and patents need to get a divorce, but in the meantime, other coping strategies are necessary. Go, PubPat.
Here's the meat of the press release:
PUBPAT CHALLENGES DATA COMPRESSION PATENT TO PROTECT JPEG FORMAT: Patent
Office Provided New Evidence Proving Patent Asserted Against
International Standard Is Invalid
NEW YORK -- November 16, 2005 -- The Public Patent Foundation ("PUBPAT") filed a formal request with the United States Patent and Trademark Office today to revoke Compression Labs Inc.'s patent on data compression that the company is widely asserting against an international standard for the electronic sharing of photo-quality images. In its filing, PUBPAT submitted previously unseen prior art showing that the patent, which was issued in 1987, was not new and, as such, should be revoked.
"CLI is using the '672 patent to harass anyone that implements the Joint
Photographic Experts Group ('JPEG') format," states PUBPAT's Request for
Ex Parte Reexamination of U.S. Patent No. 4,698,672. "CLI's aggressive
assertion of the '672 patent is causing substantial public harm by
threatening this international standard on which the public relies."
Forgent Networks Inc. (Nasdaq:FORG) acquired Compression Labs in 1997
and began an aggressive campaign of asserting the '672 patent roughly a
year and a half ago, a decade after the patent was originally issued, by
filing infringement lawsuits against dozens of companies that offer the
public products or services relating to electronic image creation or
distribution. Despite having a fledgling software offering, the
assertion of patents is Forgent Networks' principal business activity.
"Forgent Networks is a classic example of the new and rapidly growing
trend of patent holders that do nothing more than sue people who make
products or services available to the public," said Dan Ravicher,
PUBPAT's Executive Director. "Unfortunately, the patent system allows
for such perverse behavior because it cares more about patent holders
than it does the public."
PUBPAT's Request for Ex Parte Reexamination of U.S. Patent No. 4,698,672 can be found at http://www.pubpat.org/Protecting.htm.