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EFI holds the patent for software developed by MIT professor William Schreiber, which has been to licensed to around 20 companies over the last 10 years, including Apple Computer and Adobe Systems. Both EFI and MIT share royalties from the software licences.
The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Texarkana Division, alleges that the 94 companies have illegally incorporated the software into a number of consumer devices, including digital cameras and photo scanners. The case was filed in the Texas court because it is a more central venue with a reputation for expediency in large cases, according to EFI vice-president of strategic relations Jim Etheridge.
The plaintiffs want the defendants to pay back licensing fees before the case ever heads to trial, he said. Under law, those found guilty of patent violation can be held accountable for back fees of up to six years.
"We are not trying to put anyone out of business or stop them from shipping their product. We just want our licensing money," said Etheridge.
The patent for the software expires this year and will then enter the public domain.
EFI sent out letters to the companies four to five months ago, making them aware of the patent infringement, and asking them to pay back royalty fees, Etheridge said. After receiving no response, the company decided to take legal action.
"I have a feeling they'll pay attention this time," he said. "But we are interested in resolving issues amicably."
Other defendants in the case include Lotus Software, Dell Computer, Sony Electronics, Olympus America and Polaroid.