Compaq Disputes MPEG-2 Patent Claim

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A group of six electronics companies, including Motorola Broadband Communications Sector and U.S. Philips Corp., have filed suit against Compaq Computer Corp. for allegedly infringing on 26 patents essential to the MPEG-2 (Moving Pictures Expert Group) video compression standard.

In addition to Motorola Broadband (which filed as General Instrument Corp.) and Philips, plaintiffs include Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Columbia University, Victor Co. of Japan Ltd. (JVC), Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. and France Telecom.

According to the complaint, Compaq makes and markets personal computers that use patented MPEG-2 methods and devices without having entered into licenses with individual patent holders or a portfolio license from licensing entity MPEG LA.

In particular, plaintiffs cite Compaq PCs equipped with DVD playback drives, which use MPEG-2 compression technology to process and display digital video.

"We don't believe we are violating those patents," said Arch Currid, senior manager of corporate media relations for Compaq. "We are going to defend this lawsuit vigorously."

Currid acknowledged that the computer maker's DVD drives employ MPEG-2 technology, but refused to elaborate on whether Compaq had secured the rights to use it.

The MPEG-2 standard was issued in 1994 by the International Organization for Standards (ISO) after its development by the MPEG group. MPEG-2 is comprised of several core and interrelated patents.

The General Instrument patent cited in the complaint is United States Letters Patent No. 5,068,724, titled, "Adaptive motion compensation for digital television."

It describes a digital-video compression method that compares pixel data from compressed and uncompressed digital-video signals with and without motion compensation to produce a compressed video stream for transmission.

MPEG LA is a group formed by in 1996 by General Instrument, Matsushita, Columbia University, Philips, Fujitsu Limited, Scientific- Atlanta Inc. and Sony Corp. to act as the non-exclusive licensee of patents essential to MPEG-2 technology. According to Larry Horn, vice president of licensing and business development, MPEG-2 LA offers a "one-stop intellectual property solution for users of MPEG-2 technology."

In three and a half years, the group has issued 254 MPEG-2 licenses to consumer-electronics manufacturers and other companies.

Under the conditions of its MPEG-2 license agreements, "the company that sells to the end user is the party that pays the royalty," to the MPEG-2 patent holders, said Horn.

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