updated 12:35 am EDT, Tue August 7, 2007
MP3 patent suit denied
Apple, RealNetworks and other companies who license MP3 encoding technology from Fraunhofer Gesellschaft breathed a sigh of relief yesterday as U.S. District Court Judge Rudi M. Brewster ruled against an earlier jury decision that would hold Microsoft accountable for $1.53 billion in damages payable to Alcatel-Lucent SA, a co-owner of the Fraunhofer patents. In a San Diego courtroom, Brewester said that Microsoft's Windows Media Player software does not infringe upon one of two patents, which cover the encoding and decoding of audio into the MP3 format. The decision allays fears on the part of Apple, RealNetworks and others that they would be future targets of Alcatel-Lucent litigation.
Essentially, Brewster ruled that since Fraunhofer did not sue Microsoft in conjunction with Alcatel, Microsoft would not be held accountable. The Redmond software giant paid Fraunhofer $16 million for rights to use the technology in question. Reuters quotes Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith, who called Judge Brewster's ruling a "victory for consumers of digital music and a triumph for common sense in the patent system."
Alcatel-Lucent, of course, sees things differently. Mary Lou Ambrus, a spokeswoman for Alcatel, said "This reversal of the judge's own pretrial and post-trial rulings is shocking and disturbing, especially since -- after a three-week trial and four days of careful deliberation -- the jury unanimously agreed with us, and we believe their decision should stand. We still have a strong case and we believe we will prevail on appeal."
Even if Alcatel-Lucent were to win an appeal, Brewester says he would only grant a new a trial, not reverse his ruling.