Appeals Court Rules Against Holder of Machine Vision Patents

A federal appeals court has invalidated patents for bar codes and machine vision in a case that could have significant implications for the technology industry, experts told TechNewsWorld.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit — the appeals court for patent cases, based in Washington, D.C. — has declared all of the claimed “Lemelson bar code and machine vision patents” are now unenforceable due to what it termed an “unnecessary” delay in filing of the patent claims.

The decision was recently released by the court. Interestingly, just four years ago, the Federal Circuit found that unreasonable delay in prosecuting patent rights was a valid argument against patent infringement and sent that particular case back to the district court.

Jerome H. Lemelson, who died in 1997, was one of the world’s most prolific inventors with more than 500 patents to his credit. Most of these patents are not affected by the ruling, however, experts told TechNewsWorld.

End of a Battle?

“The ruling may finally signify the end of a six-year legal battle between the Lemelson Foundation — the current owners of the patents — and nine companies,” said a statement last week from the Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility, based in Warrendale, Pa., sent to TechNewsWorld.

The AIDC companies involved in the litigation were: Symbol Technologies, Inc., Accu-Sort Systems, Inc., Metrologic Instruments, Inc., PSC Inc., Teklogix Corporation, Zebra Technologies Corp., Cognex Corporation, Telxon Corporation, and Intermec Technologies Corp.

The new decision expanded on a September 9, 2005 panel decision. The September ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit “affirmed” an earlier lower court decision that the claims of 14 machine vision patents asserted by the Lemelson Partnership — some of which were also claimed to apply to bar code reading — are unenforceable for reasons of prosecution delays.

The appeals court, on December 6, in the precedent setting order, also denied the Lemelson Foundation’s petition for a rehearing of the matter en banc, meaning of the whole court, according to Paul Devinsky, an attorney with the Washington, D.C. office of McDermott, Will & Emery. The court amended its earlier order, making its finding of “uneforceability” apply to each and every claim of the patents.

Course of Action

The court said in its opinion, “in our view, the appropriate course of action is to apply the holding to all of the claims.”

The Portland, Ore.-based foundation is a private philanthropy established by U.S. inventor Lemelson and his family. The foundation uses its resources, based on patent earnings, to encourage and recognize young inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, with a growing emphasis on those who harness invention for sustainable development. To date, The Lemelson Foundation has donated or committed more than $90 million to inventors.

“It has been suggested that the Lemelson Foundation may appeal the ruling or ask that the Supreme Court take the ruling under review,” AIM told TechNewsWorld in a statement.

Developers of bar codes are also engaged in the creation of the RFID industry, for they believe that the technologies have similar uses and customers.

Worldwide RFID spending is expected to total $504 million in 2005, up by 39 percent from 2004, according to a new report from Gartner.

“Just because bar codes are used extensively in distribution centers does not mean RFID will be,” says Jeff Woods, research vice-president at Gartner. “Businesses are beginning to discover business value in places where they cannot use bar-coding, which will be the force that moves RFID forward.”

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