PATENTS & LICENSES -- Covering Their Assets
There's really no way to know what impact the current spate of patent activity will have on the industry. Much of the patent process occurs behind closed doors, and companies are very guarded about what they say for competitive and legal reasons. Even after a patent is awarded, details of licensing agreements and court cases are routinely kept private. To keep surprises to a minimum, though, it pays to stay as informed as possible.
ImageX's Begert points out that patents may not be as broad as they seem. "We don't feel there are a lot of people violating our automated prepress solution (patent) because it is a unique application we are bringing to the market," he notes.
In the case of workflow solutions from equipment vendors, for example, the company president says it would be harder to prove a system is in clear violation if there is a device-dependent component to it. "Our approach is all basically software driven," Begert adds.
Still, Begert doesn't see the firm's patent-related moves being restricted to any particular category of company, such as Web-based solution providers like printChannel or iPrint. "We are going to defend our patents vigorously," he says. "That could include system vendors or even individual printers that develop their own solutions, if what they are doing is in fact in violation of the patents."
ImageX is open to exploring a potential business relationship with any company, Begert says, so its intent isn't to use the patents as an anti-competition weapon. "I've found that people in the printing industry may be a little naive around the issue of patents. In the software industry, a lot of business relationships are negotiated as a result of patent infringement issues. There's a need for education on this subject."
An interesting side note, Oliver Pflug, CEO of printChannel, actually was among those expressing some skepticism about ImageX's patents in the earlier forum posting. Pflug says the comments he made at that time were based on a cursory review of the applications, and his company's subsequent decision to negotiate a license really came down to expediency.