Sun settles Kodak's Java suit for $92 million

The move comes less than a week after a jury ruled in Kodak's favor in the $1 billion patent infringement lawsuit.
Written by Stephen Shankland, Contributor
Sun Microsystems has settled a patent suit brought by Eastman Kodak relating to Java software, agreeing to license Kodak's patents for $92 million.

The settlement, announced Thursday, comes less than a week after a jury in U.S. District Court in western New York ruled in Kodak's favor over accusations that Java violated three Kodak patents. Kodak was seeking more than $1 billion in damages.

"The settlement assures customers worldwide that Sun will stand behind its products and intellectual property, and eliminates any uncertainty that could result from a protracted lawsuit and appeal," Sun said in a statement.

Kodak called the settlement agreement "tentative" but said the company achieved its goal to protect its intellectual property. "We are pleased that the court has validated these fundamental Kodak patents, and we now look forward to building a more productive relationship and continued collaboration with Sun," Willy Shih, a Kodak senior vice president, said in a statement.

Kodak spokesman David Lanzillo declined to comment on whether the company planned to sue others over the patents.

Sun isn't the only one selling Java software--indeed, IBM and BEA Systems have made far more money selling Java infrastructure than Sun has--but licensees are protected, said Sun spokeswoman May Petry. "The settlement applies to Java-based products under the Java license from Sun," she said.

Java lets a single program run on different computers without having to be adapted for each one; software called a Java Virtual Machine insulates the programs from the varying particulars of computers' operating systems and hardware. Java is widely used in servers and mobile phones.

Sun's payment to Kodak is "quite a far cry from what they were initially claiming" was justified, RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady said. "That has to be counted as a victory of sorts to contain costs."

Licensing deals
The patents--numbers 5,206,951, 5,421,012 and 5,226,161, which Kodak acquired from Wang Laboratories in 1997--cover a method by which a program can ask for help from another program, Lanzillo said.

Most Java backers signed licenses with Sun years ago, but three open-source Java software projects arrived later. JBoss, Geronimo and ObjectWeb became Java licensees within the last year.

Protection against patent lawsuits wasn't the reason JBoss signed its Java license, but the umbrella is welcome, Chief Executive Marc Fleury said Thursday.

"I'm glad to see this matter resolved, because it's an unstable situation," Fleury said in an interview. "I trust Sun to have done the right thing for Java and of course protect its licensees. Otherwise, it would be really bad for the industry."

Microsoft has software called .Net that's similar to Java. However, the software giant, like Hewlett-Packard and IBM, has licensed Kodak's patents, Lanzillo said.

However, the Kodak patents at issue are very broad and have corresponding implications to the computing industry, Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice said in a report this week.

"It is not much of an overstatement, if any at all, to characterize Kodak's patents as claiming the ownership of the entire concept of delegation--one system or module asking another for assistance executing a task," Eunice said. "The patents reference specific concepts...that are clearly part of Java. But the patents seem to equally describe the execution environment of just about every modern programming language, operating system, (database) engine, messaging broker and application server."

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