IBM has been taken to court over its ownership of EPAL (Enterprise Privacy Authorisation Language), a programming language for creating data privacy policies on computer networks.
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Zero-Knowledge Systems of Montreal filed the lawsuit in a Canadian court on Monday. The company is seeking an injunction to stop IBM from continuing to distribute and license EPAL, as well as £2.8 million in damages, according to Craig Silverman, a company spokesman.
IBM spokesman Cas Purdy declined to comment on the case, citing a corporate policy that prohibits comment on legal matters.
IBM unveiled EPAL in July 2003, saying that the language, which is based on XML, would make it easier for software application developers to build features into applications for managing data security and privacy.
EPAL allows organisations to render privacy policies in a language that machines can read, and to protect data as it is passed from system to system. EPAL will replace manual processes for implementing data privacy policies, said IBM.
IBM plans to add EPAL support to its enterprise privacy management software, IBM Tivoli Privacy Manager.
In December 2003, IBM submitted a draft of EPAL to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to develop, hoping to turn it into a standard that will help automate privacy management tasks, improve consumer trust and reduce the cost of privacy compliance.
Zero-Knowledge claimed that EPAL is based on work the company's Enterprise Privacy Unit, now incorporated as Synomos, completed with IBM between June 2001 and February 2002 to develop an XML privacy-language standard, PRML (Privacy Rights Markup Language).
The work on PRML was used as the foundation for EPAL, making Zero-Knowledge and IBM co-owners of the standard, Zero-Knowledge said.
Zero-Knowledge claimed IBM violated its copyright and breached a joint agreement when it submitted EPAL to the W3C without acknowledging Zero-Knowledge's role in developing it, and when it licensed the technology without Zero-Knowledge's consent.
The W3C did not respond to a request for comment on the case.
Zero-Knowledge filed suit in Canada because it is a Canadian company and because the company's lawyers determined that IBM had violated Canada's copyright laws.
Silverman declined to comment on whether a case might be brought against IBM in US courts.
Zero-Knowledge negotiated with IBM to try to resolve the dispute over EPAL before filing suit, but the two companies were unable to reach an agreement.
Paul Roberts wrtites for IDG News Service