Alcatel-Lucent's Multimedia Patent Trust sues Apple, LG, Canon, TiVo

Multimedia Patent Trust, a subsidiary of French telco Alcatel-Lucent, has filed a lawsuit against Apple, LG, Canon and TiVo, claiming that the companies infringed up to four of its video codec patents.

The case was filed with the District Court for the Southern District of California, with Canon accused of infringing all four patents, while Apple and TiVo are accused of infringing three. LG is accused of infringing two of them.

The patents are: 4,958,226, relating to “conditional motion compensated interpolation of digital motion video”; 5,136,377, relating to an “adaptive non-linear quantizer”; 5,227,878, relating to “adaptive coding and decoding of frames and fields of video”; and 5,500,678, relating to “optimised scanning of transform coefficients in video coding”.

The first patent is allegedly being infringed by everyone except LG, while the second and third are asserted against all four companies. Only Canon and TiVo need to worry about the last one.

The problem with these patents is that the first two have already expired, while the third is set to expire late next year and the fourth in 2014, making this string of lawsuits appear like a last-ditch effort to cash in on them.

If all four companies were found to have infringed the patents it would have a large effect, as the technologies mentioned in the patents are employed in a wide variety of products, including cameras, mobile phones and video software. The companies would either have to pull these products, which is unlikely, or pay substantial licensing fees, a more common phenomenon in patent disputes.

In fact, the matter of damages become more apparent when we recognise that two of the patents have already expired and the third is likely to expire before a court ruling is made. An injunction to prevent the shipment or sale of products cannot be sought on expired patents, but damages can be, according to Florian Mueller, an intellectual property expert.

Multimedia Patent Trust previously brought Microsoft and a number of other companies to court for similar allegations of patent infringement, with the second and fourth of the above patents being raised against against them. Microsoft was initially ordered to pay $1.53 billion, but that decision was later overturned and a settlement between Microsoft and Multimedia Patent Trust was made for an unknown amount.

Since some of the same patents are involved in this case, it raises questions about whether or not any of these companies will be forced to pay up to Multimedia Patent Trust. It is likely that even if the initial rulings agree that patent infringement took place the companies in question will follow Microsoft’s lead and appeal those decisions.