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PATENTS & LICENSES -- Covering Their Assets

October 2002
BY MARK SMITH


A patent on the automation of prepress processes? Could such a fundamental and basic sounding concept really be patentable, and stand up to any challenges?

Patent #6,429,947—"Automated, hosted prepress application" is just one of the patents awarded so far this year to ImageX in Kirkland, WA. By mid-August, the company was reporting it had already received final approval for six of the more than 50 patents it claimed to have pending.

According to Rich Begert, president and CEO, as a provider of online solutions for distributing, managing and producing sales and marketing materials, the company has developed a patent portfolio that covers three general areas:

1) Automated prepress processing.

2) Automatic file conversion— from PostScript to PDF and bitmap, and vice versa, including for online proofing applications.

3) Utilizing a database in automated printing scenarios.

Based on the patent abstracts and initial actions taken by ImageX, the company seems to be at the forefront of an issue with the potential to have ramifications throughout the industry. Since other companies have been issued patents or have ones pending in this area, battles could pop up on a number of fronts.

For example, Chambersburg, PA-based e-LYNXX Corp. was awarded patent #6,397,197 covering online competitive print bidding. The company claims that the patent, in essence, gives it "ownership of the rights to the computer-driven practice of matching the manufacturing capabilities and other attributes of a print supplier to individual job specs, such that print buyers can now obtain competitive pricing based on their supplier's open production capacity."

For its part, ImageX has repeatedly stated its intent to "monetize" its patent portfolio and turn it into "a revenue-generating component of our business." Rather than go to war with the company, San Francisco-based printChannel.com (which, at press time, was reported to have closed its doors and was in the process of seeking a buyer) negotiated a licensing agreement to cover its business activities as a vendor of Web-based print procurement solutions. PrintingForLess.com is also a licensee.

Recent Litigation

On another front, ImageX recently announced it had filed suit against iPrint Technologies, of Santa Clara, CA, for infringement of its automated prepress patent, #6,429,947. iPrint, a provider of online and off-line marketing and customized branding solutions, responded with a statement denying the allegations. The company also pointed out that it has a number of pending patent applications of its own.

Those tempted to dismiss any patents out of hand would do well to bear in mind the recent industry history with another patent. In 1994, Richard Stein, of National Printing & Packaging in Denver, was issued patent #5,283,154 for a "random screen waterless printing process." Controversy arose when he started requesting licensing and royalties fees from companies using stochastic/frequency modulated screening in combination with waterless printing. The patent was awarded even though Stein hadn't developed a methodology for producing the screening nor any plates or inks used in the waterless process.
 

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