A federal jury today is trying to decide whether Java contains features that violate Eastman Kodak Co. patents.

Kodak sued Sun Microsystems for more than $1 billion in February, 2002, alleging certain features of Java violate three of its patents. (Kodak acquired the patents when it bought Wang Laboratories in 1997.) Sun not only denies infringing Kodak’s patents, but also alleges the patents are invalid because other developers worked on the problems and published the solutions years before the team at Wang. The lawsuit went to trial in Rochester, New York, earlier this month, and the jury began deliberating Thursday.

As near as I can tell from looking at the patents, Kodak is alleging its patents cover technology present in RMI, the RMI registry and/or the remote-activation technology in the RMI daemon. I haven’t been able to read the lawsuit to find out for certain.

According to a Sept. 10 story in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle newspaper, the three patents in question define software “that allows computer programs to ‘ask for help’ from other programs when needed. That is, bringing the right pieces to life at the right time.” None of the stories I’ve read describe the actual Java technology involved. In fact, WROC-TV in Rochester said in a story that the technology involved was “Java Script.”

The patents in question are:

  • 5,206,951, Integration of data between typed objects by mutual, direct invocation between object managers corresponding to object types.
  • 5,226,161, Integration of data between typed data structures by mutual direct invocation between data managers corresponding to data types
  • 5,421,012, Multitasking computer system for integrating the operation of different application programs which manipulate data objects of different types.

If the jury finds in favor of Kodak, the trial will enter a penalty phase in which Sun and Kodak will argue over how much Sun should pay for the infringement.

Speaking of patents, CNET published a story yesterday saying Sun filed a patent application defining a method of charging for software on a per-employee basis. It made me wonder who owns the patent for charging for software on a per-CPU basis. Or a per-unit basis. They must be rich. What will we see next, a patent for one-click checkout?