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PalmOne overturns Xerox Graffiti patent

Unistroke 'not unique'

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A Xerox pen-based text-entry system patent - ownership of which forced Palm to ditch its Graffiti character-input technology - is invalid, a US District Court judge has ruled.

The patent, number 5,596,656, details Xerox's Unistroke system, a series of 'shorthand' symbols drawn instead of real character glyphs. The symbols are recognised by the software more easily that real handwriting, making the faster to convert into text data. The patent was granted in 1997, but filed some years earlier.

In April 1997, Xerox said that Palm, then owned by US Robotics, had infringed that patent when it released Graffiti, a series of 'shorthand' symbols drawn instead of real character glyphs.

The Court concurred, and in December 2001, Palm was ordered not to offer products using the infringing technology. The handheld maker - by now operating as Palm and PalmSource - achieved that by licensing CIC's Jot software, the text-entry system already used by Microsoft's PocketPC OS. PalmSource re-branded Jot as Graffiti 2.

Ironically, PalmSource's tweaking of the Graffiti 2 symbol set resulted in a character-entry system that was less like Graffiti 1 than the PocketPC's symbol set is.

Skip forward to 2004, and PalmSource and Palm - the latter now called PalmOne - are separate entities. PalmOne retains liability for the infringement. It has always maintained - in all of its guises - that the Xerox patent is invalid, and now a judge has ruled in its favour.

Judge Michael A Telesca of the US District Court for the Western District of New York said simply: "Prior art references anticipate and render obvious the claim [made in the Xerox patent]." In other words, Unistroke wasn't unique, and Xerox has no right to claim ownership of the technique through its invention.

Xerox may yet appeal against the decision, primarily by attempting to show the prior art doesn't cover as much of the technology as PalmOne reckons it does.

In any case, the decision comes to late for those of us used to Graffiti 1 and have problems adapting to Graffiti 2. Having made the transition, PalmOne is unlikely to go back to the initial implementation. ®

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