Machine Design

Patent dispute roils software users

A recent court decision may have some users of the Simulink simulation program wondering whether it's still okay to run this software.

The short answer, according to officials familiar with the suit, is "yes" if you bought the package before last Oct. 13.

In January 2001, National Instruments Corp. filed a civil-action patent-infringement suit against The MathWorks Inc. NI contended that The MathWorks' Simulink software and certain other products infringed four patents on the NI LabView program relating to graphical computer programming. In June 2003 a judge upheld the jury's Jan. 2003 verdict finding validity of all four patents and infringement of three NI patents. The judge also issued an order forbidding the sale of Simulink software once any appeal had been disposed of in favor of NI.

In Sept. 2004 the Federal Court of Appeals disposed of The MathWorks appeal in favor of NI and upheld the decision and injunction of the District Court. On Oct. 13, 2004, the stay was lifted and the injunction was set in force.

"MathWorks customers who bought their copy (of Simulink) prior to the 13th of October don't have any problems because the injunction was not in effect," says National Instruments Vice President and General Counsel David Hugley.

"The court specifically said customers can continue to use previously purchased Simulink products," says a MathWorks spokesperson.

There is uncertainty surrounding a recently released service pack for Simulink, however. "Although The MathWorks stated its intention to abide by the decision of the court, it is National Instruments' position that the new Service Pack recently introduced by The MathWorks continues to infringe these patents," says NI's Hugley. "We will continue to protect our patent rights by asking the court to hold The MathWorks in contempt for violating the injunction by selling these infringing products."

In a statement issued Oct. 18, MathWorks said it stopped selling the enjoined version of Simulink and is now selling a modified version in a service pack called R14SP1 that contains changes related to the patent litigation. In the statement, MathWorks also said it takes the position that the modified version fully complies with the Court's decision and injunction.

A court hearing has been set for this month on whether The MathWorks service pack also infringes, says Hugley. "Simulink customers who have version 13, 13.1, and 14.0 don't have to worry until they upgrade. The question is what the upgrade will look like. Will that be Service Pack one or will (The MathWorks) have to come out with something more modified," he says.

A MathWorks spokesperson declined to comment on the upcoming court hearing.

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