Graphics patent holder sues Sony, MS, Nintendo

Initiatiator of mass IP lawsuit filing revealed

The massive programme of legal action against alleged infringers of a series of patents covering graphics and other computing techniques has been extended to console hardware vendors Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

The news follows yesterday's revelation that 18 PC hardware companies had also been targeted, alongside 12 games software publishers.

The console makers are accused of infringing two patents, 5,109,520 and 4,734,690. The latter essentially covers representing a dynamic 3D environment and objects on a 2D display, and is the same patent the games publishers have been alleged to have violated. The former is entitled 'Image frame buffer access speedup by providing multiple buffer controllers each containing command FIFO buffers', and is cited in the action against the PC makers.

In each case, the plaintiff is seeking a jury trial, and wants it the defendants to cough up legal costs, damages and both pre- and post-judgement interest on the damages.

With patent applications stretching right back to the mid-1980s, why has it taken so long for key hardware vendors and games software publishers to be sued for alleged infringement of a series of patents covering 3D graphics? Because the current owner of the intellectual property in question only took possession on 16 June 2004.

The current owner is one American Video Graphics, of Marshall, Texas. It's the company on whose behalf Dallas-based law firm McKool Smith - the name most associated with the current litigation - has filed complaints with the District Court for Eastern Texas against HP, Dell, IBM, Gateway, Acer, Sony, Toshiba, MPC, Systemax, Fujitsu, Micro Electronics, Matsushita, Averatec, Polywell, Twinhead, Sharp, Uniwill and JVC.

Games publishers on the receiving end of a writ include Electronic Arts, Take-Two, Activision, Atari, THQ, Vivendi Universal, Sega, Square Enix, Tecmo, Lucasarts, Namco and Ubisoft.

All these companies are charged with violating AVG's intellectual property rights by allegedly transgressing one or more of 25 separate patents originally filed by and granted to Tektronix. The patents were assigned between 1987 and 1992, and all were sold by Tektronix to a number of third-parties.

Patent number 4,734,690, for example, the patent the games publishers are alleged to have infringed, had two owners between Tektronix and AVG: David G White and Research Investment Network, inc. Others have longer ownership routes from the inventor to AVG.

The patents were sold by Tektronix at various points between 1999 and 2004. It's not clear whether any of the patents' previous owners pursued Sony, Nintendo, Microsoft and the others, but their swift sale suggests they were purchased for sale rather than exploitation.

AVG clearly feels differently and its mass-action suggests it believes it has a strong chance of success. Typically, IP owners pursuing large companies will chose one to fight and potentially make an example of in the hope of persuading others to sign up in the meantime and to limit their exposure should the action fail. ®

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