Sony-Connectix bout moves to next round

A week after withdrawing, then refiling, a patent-infringement suit over Connectix's PlayStation emulator, Sony predicted the case will come to trial this autumn

After last week's withdrawal and refiling of a patent-infringement suit, the multifaceted legal conflict between Sony Computer Entertainment America and Connectix seems to be back on track, and Sony told ZDNet News it expects the dispute to come to trial this autumn.

Last Thursday, Sony's lawyers pulled one of two outstanding lawsuits it had begun against Connectix in San Francisco federal district court, both centred on Connectix's Virtual Game Station, a software package that allows Apple Macintosh computers and Windows systems to run games designed for Sony's PlayStation game console.

The patent-infringement case was withdrawn one day before judge Charles Legge was to decide on Connectix's motion to dismiss, but Sony refiled a revised version, containing six of the original's eleven charges, that evening.

As a result of the refiling, the case was reassigned initially to a magistrate court in Oakland, California; Sony is requesting that it be returned to judge Legge's bench. If this request is granted, then the next step would be for judge Legge to set a schedule for hearing evidence.

But first he may have to decide on a renewed motion to dismiss. "It's likely we'll file another motion," Roy McDonald, president and chief executive of Connectix . "It could happen in weeks," he added.

However, James Gilliland, a partner at San Francisco's Townsend & Townsend & Crew and a lawyer for Sony said, "We're assuming the case is going to trial in the fall."

This suit joins an ongoing intellectual-property suit Sony filed against Connectix in January 1999, only weeks after VGS first shipped for the Mac. This case is scheduled for a September hearing in which judge Legge will decide whether or not it will go to a jury.

That suit differs from the patent-infringement case in that it covers alleged issues of copyright infringement, trademark dilution and misappropriation of trade secrets.

However, it also hinges on Sony's contention that the Virtual Game Station software offered insufficient protection against running pirated versions of PlayStation games, especially compared with the anti-piracy measures Sony claims are built into the game console's hardware.

"Sony is doubtful that any software could provide adequate piracy protection," Gilliland said.

Game piracy is of particular concern to Sony, since the company receives revenue from the sale of both Sony-branded games and through licensing of third-party developers.

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