April 23, 2004

Is the GIMP safe from Forgent's IP claims?

Author: Joe Barr

Austin, Texas-based Forgent Networks, which makes enterprise meeting automation software and also owns graphics technology copyrights, filed suit Thursday against hardware and software vendors for alleged patent infringement based on technology used in producing JPEG images. The JPG format is widely used on the Internet, in digital cameras, and elsewhere. NewsForge spoke to Forgent Networks Friday and learned that while it does not intend to go after end-users, the issue of whether or not free/open source software projects using JPG compression might be at risk is not clear.According to the press release, the list of companies being sued includes such widely known firms as Adobe, Apple, Dell Computers, Eastman Kodak, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Toshiba, and 24 others.

NewsForge spoke by telephone to Forgent Networks' Director of Investor Relations, Michael Noonan, to learn more about the legal actions as well as who else might be at risk.

NF: How does the suit effect someone like myself, who uses the JPG format to store images?

Noonan: It doesn't. Our licensing program is targeted to the device manufacturers, whether the device manufacturers are hardware or software producers. If you look at the list of companies (in the press release), there are a few software companies in there as well.

NF: What exactly is the problem?

Noonan: Our technology, which is an algorithm that is used to compress, encode, and decode the digital images, is an integral part of the JPEG process. The JPEG committee -- which stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group -- used our technology. Therefore, any company that uses JPEG and embeds it in their devices, again whether they are hardware or software, is using our patent. What we have been doing the past several years is going to these companies that have been using our technology, and asking them to pay a royalty fee.

NF: It sounds like you are going after people who are using your technology to make money.

Noonan: That is correct.

NF: Would a free software program that stores images in JPG format, like the GIMP, be violating your IP rights by using JPG?

Noonan: That's a difficult question, I don't have the answer to that. I have to defer that to our legal team.

Of course, just to be safe, it might be wise for the GIMP developers (as well as all other open source image processing projects which use JPG) to volunteer to donate a percentage of their revenues to Forgent Networks.

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