PATENTS & LICENSES — Covering Their Assets

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.

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