With the settling of securities litigation behind it, Informix might well have hoped legal woes were a thing of the past. However, the US database and tools vendor is now facing a patent infringement lawsuit from IBM and is likely to file a counter-suit against Big Blue within the next 30 days.
IBM filed an action against Informix on Friday alleging patent infringement at the US District Court in Wilmington, Delaware, IBM spokeswoman Carol Makovich confirmed yesterday. The suit relates to six patents dealing with database software as well as software for distributed processing and data compression technology, Makovich said.
"The initiation of a lawsuit is a rare step for IBM," she said. "We are very serious about this case."
Makovich said that IBM has been in discussion with Informix for over a year relating to the alleged patent infringements in an attempt to initiate talks about Informix licensing the disputed IBM technology, as well as compensating IBM for its use in the past.
According to Informix General Counsel Gary Lloyd, IBM and Informix have held sporadic discussions in three meetings during the past two and a half years. He described as "absolutely false" media reports that Big Blue opted to sue Informix when the database and tools vendor refused to sign a licensing agreement.
"It never got to that point," Lloyd said. "IBM never convinced us of the infringement problem." The three meetings held between the two companies were to determine whether or not Informix had infringed on IBM's patents, and Informix concluded that it had not done so, he said. "On the face of the complaint, it's not clear what the nature of the infringement is," Lloyd added.
"At a minimum, we will file a counter-suit to invalidate IBM's patents within the next 30 days," Lloyd said, describing the legal action as "unfortunate" and "not pleasant".
The patents at the heart of the dispute were awarded to IBM between June 16, 1981, and July 21, 1992, according to IBM's action. The titles of the patents include "Method for Assuring Atomicity of Multi-Row Update Operations in a Database System", "Data Compression Method" and "Method for Referential Constraint Enforcement in a Database Management System".
The Informix software alleged to have infringed IBM patents are both database and development tool products: Online Dynamic Server versions 6 and 7, Online version 5, SE version 6, NewEra version 1, STAR, NET, Illustra Visual Information Retrieval version 1.2 and Illustra Visual Intelligence Viewer version 1.1. Informix acquired object-oriented database specialist Illustra Information Technologies in 1996.
IBM is seeking compensatory damages and a permanent injunction against the Informix software mentioned in the action. However, since the company has not filed for a temporary injunction, Informix can continue selling the disputed software, Lloyd said.
The lawsuit was filed in Delaware because Informix was incorporated in that state and therefore the court has personal jurisdiction over the company.
Informix settled private securities litigation toward the end of 1999 and reached a settlement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) last month.
The SEC charged that Informix had fraudulently inflated revenues and earnings between 1994 and 1997 -- allegations that Informix neither admitted or denied. The company agreed to cooperate with the SEC's ongoing investigation.