01 October 2010

Australian Software Licensing Invention in the News

If only software product activiation
was as easy as flicking a switch...
One of the highest-profile software patent cases of 2009 was the litigation between Uniloc USA Inc and Microsoft, over a patent which Uniloc asserts covers the "software activation" system widely used to register licensed copies of software.  Uniloc provides its own software protection and licensing software and services under the name SoftAnchor.

The case first made headlines when a jury awarded damages of US$388 million against Microsoft for patent infringement, and then again when the presiding District Court judge overturned the verdict in a "Judgement as a Matter of Law" (JMOL).

Naturally, Uniloc appealed the judge's decision.  Oral arguments in the case were heard in the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (CAFC) last month.  Readers with a burning interest in such proceedings can listen to a MP3 recording of the hearing, available from the CAFC website.

Something that is less well-known (perhaps unsurprisingly, since Uniloc is a US company, and its parent is based in Singapore) is that the founder of Uniloc is an Australian by the name of Ric Richardson, who invented the software licensing system and filed his first patent applications back in the early 1990's.

After early support from IBM began to wane, Richardson moved to the US to pursue licensing deals with various software vendors, before beginning to suspect that Microsoft's Windows XP product activation system infringed his patent.

Richardson has more recently retired from active involvement with Uniloc, and now operates as an independent inventor out of a mobile office set up in the back of a Ford Transit van in the Byron Bay area, which is better known for its bohemian residents, and for being the easternmost point of the Australian mainland, than for its tech-millionaires!

Last year, the Australian Story television program profiled Richardson, and the history of Uniloc and Microsoft, in an episode entitled The Big Deal.  The program was made after the jury verdict, but before the final judgement, and regrettably closed with the caption:

Ric Richardson says he expects the judge's final determination on damages against Microsoft 'any day now'.
In doubt is whether or not the figure will include an extra amount for the 'wilfulness' of the infringement.
It is possible to watch the episode, or read the transcript, on the program's website.

Richardson's decision to step away from active involvement with Uniloc was perhaps influenced by the fact that the company appears to have moved into a new phase of business since the Microsoft case which, while important and potentially lucrative in terms of extracting maximum value from its intellectual assets, is understandably of lesser interest to a curious and inventive mind. 

The law.com website reports that, since last November, Uniloc has commenced litigation against no less than 73 companies, for infringement of the same patent asserted against Microsoft.  The most recent defendants include Adobe, Symantec, CA, National Instruments, and Sonic Solutions.

Richardson has a blog, where you can read his take on the Microsoft case and the recent CAFC hearing, and much else besides.

We are always pleased to report Australian success stories, and hope that others will see them as an example of what can be achieved with good ideas, good sense, determination and a bit of luck!

We wish Richardson and Uniloc well, and will provide updates of any further developments in the ongoing litigation that happen across our desk.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

"no less than 73 companies" ???!!! Maybe there is no reason for USPTO to grant patent for something which is widely use. I wish all these "other" companies well and hope that one day the "patent trolling" will not be allowed in USA.

Dr Mark Summerfield said...

Thanks, 'Anonymous' for your interest. However, you should know that the patent in question (US 5,490,216) was filed in 1993, and issued in 1996, when nobody was using the invention (a number of those 73 companies probably didn't even exist then).

Also, it is not really fair to use the term "troll" to describe a company that practices the invention itself, and has its own products and services out in the marketplace.

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