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Apple, Imatec lawsuit talks collapse

$1.1 billion patent infringement set to go to court

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Apple and imaging software developer Imatec have failed to reach an agreement to prevent the latter's $1.1 billion patent infringement lawsuit against the Mac maker reaching the courts. However, the first hearing is unlikely to begin before next March, over a year since Imatec filed the suit in New York. Imatec's case centres on its allegation that Apple used Imatec-patented technology in its ColorSync software. ColorSync provides the Mac with a device-independent colour system ensuring the colours created by scanning an image are accurately reproduced on screen and in hard copy form. This isn't possible without such technology because all three devices generate colours in very different ways. Apple introduced ColorSync in 1993, but claims the software is based on technologies that it had been offering since 1985 -- before Imatec's patents were granted in 1992. Adobe has been offering a device-independent colour model as part of PostScript Level 2 since the late 80s, and other companies, particularly monitor manufacturers, were offering devices for calibrating displays based, to an extent, on matching colours with printed output before 1992. Imatec's patent speaks of images "formed on the video monitor screen and measured using a photometer" which are then "reproduced on hard copy and may be measured using a densitometer". The two values are "entered into a computer system and used to adjust, on a pixel-by-pixel basis, the electronic controls of the hard color reproduction system to compensate for any deviations from accurate reproduction". That implies a system predicated on the use of extra colour-sampling devices, operating in real-time, leading to a two-pass process in which the image is printed, tested, adjusted and then printed again, this time with the correct mix of colours. It's a moot point whether it covers such tasks in advance and building the appropriate adjustment into the system software, which is essentially what ColorSync is all about. It simply collates colour information for different devices and modifies image data as it moves from one supported device to another. That may explain why Imatec appears to have changed its tack slightly since the initial filing. Its pre-trial deposition claims Apple acknowledged that it didn't have a policy in place for checking new products against existing patents. Imatec's intention is that, had Apple checked the patents database, it would have seen Imatec had some sort of prior claim on the technology and that it would have therefore come to some kind of arrangement with the developer. That, of course, presumes Apple hadn't done so and found that the two technologies don't clash, hence its decision not to communicate with Imatec. ®

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