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Sue me, sue you blues

Sue me, sue you blues

In an effort to win the `best byline' award, Matthew JC. Powell gratuitously mentions the AITS . . .

Before I really get started, I just wanted to let you know that Double Jeopardy is a complete waste of celluloid and Bruce Beresford should be ashamed of himself. It's tragic to see a great director crash and burn, and this abomination is truly sad. If I've saved one person the cost of a movie ticket, my work is done.

But that's not what this column is about. As I sat down to start writing it, a news flash appeared in my e-mail, informing me that a lawsuit that had been brought against Apple by Imatec had been dismissed in a US court. The suit related to Apple's ColorSync software, a neat bit of kit that, properly used, helps the colours of what you print out from a Mac closely resemble the colours you see on screen. It's only really useful to professional publishers, but Apple pushes it as a competitive advantage anyway. (Truth is, the average Mac owner probably has no idea any such software resides on their system, and hardly anyone uses it properly even if they know what it's for. Fact of life.)Anyway, Imatec argued that ColorSync violated several patents related to the display of colour on monitors. Exactly what remedies were sought, I don't know for sure. I expect money was involved. The suit ran for several years, I'm told, and was ultimately resolved when the judge determined that Apple hadn't violated the patents in question. And what's more, Imatec didn't own the patents, so it had no cause bringing them before the court. That last bit is what this column is about.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was recently handed a billion dollars worth of company stock and a jet as `thanks' for his three years of interim hard work, said the company's customers now had nothing to fear from this `frivolous' lawsuit.

Two questions leap to mind: 1) what did he think his customers were afraid of? That their monitors would suddenly display everything in weird, uncoordinated psychedelic colours if the judge decided differently? 2) What do I have to do to make someone that grateful to me?

The other thing that leaps effortlessly to mind is Apple's lawsuit against Microsoft for elements of the Windows graphical user interface (these were the days before Microsoft called Windows an operating system). Microsoft had legitimately licensed certain elements of the Mac interface from Apple for Windows 1.0. What Apple's then-CEO John Sculley didn't seem to realise until later was that this licence covered `all further versions' of Windows. All together now: OOPS!

Finding it didn't have a legal leg to stand on in terms of that original licence, Apple changed the terms of the lawsuit to the `look and feel' of the Mac.

It's a term so widely used now that it almost has meaning, but back then it was sufficiently vague that Apple might as well have been talking about the `essence' of the Mac, or its `precious bodily fluids'. You want a frivolous lawsuit? That has to be the doozy of all time.

Ultimately the thing was resolved following the intervention of Xerox, which had come up with many of the `look and feel' elements in the first place. Quite what Xerox had done was very vague, but no more so than Apple's claims about what Microsoft had done. In the end, the judge threw the thing out for the sake of restoring a semblance of sanity to the industry. Judge not, Steve.

Just before Christmas, I heard that a judge had upheld a claim by Amazon.com that its chief competitor in online bookselling, Barnes & Noble, had violated a patent on its `1-Click' ordering system. The chief advantage of `1-Click' over Amazon's normal ordering system is that you don't have to enter a whole bunch of details every time you place an order - the system remembers your details from the last order you placed, and fills in the blanks for you.

It's a sensible system, and quite useful if you have only one credit card, always receive your books at the same address, and don't want to give people gifts. It should be a standard way to save time when shopping online. Barnes & Noble certainly thought so, and implemented a similar, though not identical system. Amazon's claim is tantamount to saying that shopping online has to be inconvenient everywhere except Amazon.

It's as if Woolworths had sued Coles for implementing an `eight items or less' aisle. Amazon has been a pioneer in this industry, but if it keeps up this kind of behaviour, and if the courts continue to accept it, it will shortly be seen as nothing more than an impediment.

Matthew JC. Powell is a firm believer in the metric system. Contact him on mjcpowell@ozemail.com.au


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