Key parts of JPEG patent rejected by government

The federal government has rejected the broadest claims by a Texas company that has attempted to charge license fees for the popular JPEG digital image standard.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) rejected 19 of the 47 claims in a patent held by Forgent Networks, an Austin company that is currently suing about 30 companies for license fees to the image compression technology.

The action came after a request for reexamination of the controversial patent by the Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT), a non-profit group that seeks to overturn unfair patent claims. The foundation said it had found prior art or previous related inventions that made Forgent's patent invalid, the IDG News Service reported.

At issue was the Forget '672 patent, nickname for U.S Patent No. 4,698,672. It describes a technique for compressing data by replacing strings of code that appear frequently with code strings of a shorter length.

“The Patent Office has agreed with our conclusion that it would have never granted Forgent Networks' '672 patent had it been aware of the prior art that we uncovered and submitted to them,” said Dan Ravicher, PUBPAT's executive director.

“Making matters worse here is that this new prior art was known by those who filed the application that led to the '672 patent, but none of them told the Patent Office about it, despite their duty to do so,” Ravicher said.

Forgent had claimed the technique outlined in the patent is employed in the JPEG format, which is used in a wide range of digital imaging products. The USPTO's decision, issued last week, overturned the broadest claims in Forgent's patent, including the description “a method for processing digital signals … to reduce the amount of data utilized.”

Forgent said it would “vigorously defend” the rejected patents, though an appeal could result in the company losing all claims to the technology. Forgent is currently suing about 30 companies to secure licensing deals for the technology, including Apple Computer, Eastman Kodak, Microsoft and TiVo.

So far, Forgent has secured licensing deals with more than a dozen other companies that it sued, generating about $105 million in revenue, the company said.