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Adobe Goes After Macromedia For Patent Infringement, Macromedia Says "So What?"

Adobe Goes After Macromedia For Patent Infringement, Macromedia Says "So What?"

by , 11:00 AM EDT, August 11th, 2000

Adobe has filed a law suit against Macromedia for a patent infringement. Adobe has Patent No. 5,546,528, which has to do with how information is displayed on a computer screen, particularly the use of tabs and tabbed windows and palettes for displaying information. According to the US Patent & Trademark Office web site, Patent No. 5,546,528 is as follows:

A method for displaying on a computer screen multiple sets of information needed on a recurring basis, comprising the steps of: (1) Establishing an area on the computer screen in which the multiple sets of information are to be displayed, the established area having a maximum size which is substantially less than the entire area of the screen. (2) Providing within the established area a plurality of selection indicators, one for each of the multiple sets of information. (3) Selecting one of the multiple sets of information for display within the established area by pointing to one of the selection indicators within the established area, whereby the selected set of information will be substituted within the established area for the set of information previously being displayed therein. A selected set of information may also be moved out of the selected area by pointing to its selection indicator and dragging it away.

This patent obviously addresses the concept of floating, dockable palettes, and that is something that Adobe claims to have dibs on. Macromedia incorporated the notion of tabbed, dockable palettes in the most recent round of software revisions, including the wildly popular Dreamweaver and Director titles. According to Adobe:

Adobe Systems Incorporated, the leading developer of award-winning software solutions for Web and print publishing, today announced it has filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Delaware against Macromedia, Inc. for infringement of U.S. Patent No. 5,546,528. This covers Adobe's tabbed palette patent, which is Adobe's method of displaying and working with multiple sets of information in the same area of the computer screen. The patented invention allows users to customize how the functions in the product are organized on the workspace.

"We are taking this action now, after notifying Macromedia on several occasions that its products are infringing our patent. The remedy sought is straightforward we ask them to stop infringing our patents," said Bruce Chizen, Adobe's president. "Adobe will not be the R&D department for its competitors. Our patent and other aspects of our user interface are key to the user experience and functionality of our products; they are essential to differentiate our products and brand from others."

"Adobe will aggressively enforce its patent portfolio and protect the interests of its stockholders," said Colleen Pouliot, Adobe's senior vice president and general counsel. "To be fair, competition has to be based on a level playing field companies must compete on the basis of innovation and according to the laws of the land. All we ask is that Macromedia play by these rules and stop infringing our patent."

Macromedia admits being contacted by Adobe, but gives the Adobe patent little real-world merit. And, seemingly, Macromedia does not plan on changing their user interface structure. According to Macromedia:

Macromedia, Inc. announced today that it categorically denies the claims made in a lawsuit filed earlier this afternoon by Adobe Systems Inc. The claim alleges patent infringement relating to user interface features of Macromedia products.

Macromedia believes the claims made in the Adobe lawsuit are without merit. The company believes that U.S. Patent No. 5,546,528 is invalid and unenforceable and that Macromedia does not violate the patent. Macromedia advised Adobe of this belief when first contacted by them in 1996, and readvised them when they last contacted Macromedia in May, 1999.

If Adobe had indeed contacted Macromedia on numerous occasions over the last four years, and both companies seem to agree that that is indeed the case, then one must wonder why Adobe has waited until now to actually pursue legal action. As of press time, Adobe could not be reached for comment.

This is bound to get more interesting before it goes away, so stay tuned for further details as they become available.

The Mac Observer Spin:

Patents are getting out of control, and the idea of having a patent over a tabbed area on a computer screen does seem somewhat ludicrous. However, the patent is there on the books, regardless of how rational and enforceable it appears. Macromedia is taking a bold stance by essentially saying, "Yes, you have a patent...so what? You can not patent tabs. Now go away."

The next few weeks will tell whether Macromedia is wrong, and Adobe can indeed patent the notion of tabs and dockable palettes. We hope not, as that user interface method is used in software far beyond Adobe and Macromedia. While the concept may be originated by Adobe, the software industry has adopted the concept almost universally. Adobe will have a host of high profile law suits in their future if the Macromedia suit is shown to have merit.

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