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Court to Hear Cognex Appeal

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2001
Stephanie A. Weiss

RENO, Nev. -- Cognex Corp. expects a federal district court to rule this month on its request to throw out some of the machine vision and bar-code patents in its lawsuit against the Lemelson Medical, Education and Research Foundation. In addition, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit should hear an appeal this month or next on another aspect of the case.

Greg Smith, a partner in the Competition Law Group in Chicago, provided an update on the Lemelson litigation during the Automated Imaging Association's annual business meeting last month.

Inventor Jerome Lemelson applied for patents in the 1950s but extended them and added claims for more than 30 years before the US Patent Office granted them. Lemelson then approached machine vision and bar-code users for license fees, claiming they were violating his patents. Legal experts estimate that the foundation has more than 600 licensees and revenues of about $1 billion as a result of these actions.

Cognex sued the foundation in 1998, claiming that the patents were invalid. This month, the firm expects a judge in Reno to rule on a request for a partial summary judgment that could invalidate most of the patent claims in the lawsuit.

"That is a ruling that is worth watching for," Smith said. "The reason it's a big deal is that, if it's favorable to Cognex, it will knock out hundreds of the Lemelson claims." If not, he said, Cognex and the foundation will continue to prepare for the district court trial, which is scheduled for later this year.

Meanwhile, Cognex, Lemelson and other interested parties have filed legal papers with the appeals court, outlining their views on another Cognex argument. Cognex argues that Lemelson's patent application process amounted to an unreasonable delay in pursuing a claim -- the legal doctrine of prosecutorial laches. A federal district court dismissed the argument, but the appeals court agreed last year to reconsider it. Lawyers expect a ruling this year.

Other Lemelson-related lawsuits are pending against 400 to 500 defendants, mostly retailers and consumer product manufacturers that use bar codes and/or machine vision. Most of those cases are on hold, awaiting the results of the Cognex lawsuit.


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