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Apple defeats ColorSync patent violation suit

Imatec doesn't even have ownership of 'infringed' patents, judge rules

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A US District Court Judge has thrown out a patent infringement case begun in February 1998 by Imatec against Apple. The case centred on Apple's ColorSync software, technology that matches the colour spaces of monitors, printers and scanners to ensure consistency of colour output throughout the document production process. Imatec alleged that ColorSync violated patents the company held on behalf of its owner, one Hanoch Shalit. Shalit's patents were filed in 1992, a year before ColorSync shipped. 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. Interestingly, ColorSync uses technology licensed from Heidelberg Prepress, then known as Linotype. So does Microsoft's less well-known Image Colour Management system, though this software is not cited in the Imatec suit. Apple always maintained that ColorSync was based on technology it had been using and developing since the mid-80s, and in any case Adobe had brought the first device-independent colour system to market in the late 80s with PostScript Level 2. That's probably why the judge ruled that not only did ColorSync not violate Imatec's patents, but that Imatec and Shalit have no right to the patents in any case. ®

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