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U.S. Rejects Developer's 'Multimedia' Patent Claim

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The U.S. Patent Office has rejected evidence presented by a California software developer to support its claim that it essentially invented the concept of "multimedia'' software.

The decision has important implications for educators because it makes it unlikely that Compton's NewMedia, a firm based in Carlsbad, Calif., will be able to collect royalties on such products as "electronic encyclopedias,'' which several companies sell in the education market.

Multimedia products generally combine sound, text, video, still images, and animation into a single presentation.

Education-software companies have developed a range of products that they call multimedia for both home and school use.

In a growing number of classrooms, moreover, teachers and students have been using new software products and sophisticated equipment to devise their own multimedia products.

While it is unclear whether such "homemade'' products would have been covered by the patent in question, the decision by the patent office late last month should be regarded as "good news for educators,'' said Ken Christie, the director of marketing and communications for the Interactive Multimedia Association, a 280-member trade group based in Annapolis, Md.

Higher Costs Feared

The multimedia association and independent software developers argued that upholding the controversial patent would drive up the price of software and discourage innovation in the field. (See Education Week, Feb. 2, 1994.)

In an unprecedented decision, Bruce A. Lehman, the U.S. Commerce Department's commissioner of patents and trademarks, in December ordered a re-examination of the patent, which was granted by his office last summer.

In its finding last month, the patent office decided that 41 claims made by Compton "lacked novelty'' and should not have been eligible for patent protection.

Compton, which has repeatedly declined comment in the matter, has 60 days from the date of the ruling to present new evidence in support of its claims.

Under the rule for re-examination, the company has several options open to it. It can argue that the grounds for rejection were incorrect, claim that it invented the techniques in question prior to applying for a patent, or narrow its claims for the patent.

A final alternative for the company would be to drop the claim altogether.

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