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Blu-ray Named in ITC Patent Complaint by Columbia Prof Print
Friday, 21 March 2008

ZDNet is reporting that a Columbia University professor has filed a complaint with the US International Trade Commission, claiming that several companies and related products, including Sony's Blu-ray technology, are infringing a patent she controls:

The U.S. International Trade Commission will launch an investigation into Sony and about 30 other companies on possible patent infringements related to Blu-ray disc players and other products.

The commission said Thursday on its Web site that the products involved are short-wavelength light-emitting diodes and laser diodes used in such electronics as handheld mobile devices, traffic lights, and high-definition DVD players.

The move is based on a complaint filed in February by Gertrude Neumark Rothschild, a Columbia University professor emeritus who is seeking to block imports into the United States of a range of products that she said were infringing her patent.

At this point it's impossible to know whether this complaint has any merit, or whether this will actually cause practical problems for Sony and the other companies named in the complaint. But this news fits a general trend, where patents are brandished like weapons, with more and more companies threatened with legal action in the hope of a quick and hefty payout. Some companies have even begun to build patent portfolios with the primary goal of creating a deterrent against patent warfare by competitors.

As an aside, I highly recommend the excellent Techdirt web site for anyone who's interested in really understanding the purpose and importance of patents and copyrights for society, and how recent legal and legislative developments are seriously undermining those ideals.

March 24 Update:  Techdirt provides more background on this story, in particular a possible explanation of why this is a complaint filed via the US ITC, not a lawsuit.