University of Rochester

University Technology Wins Major Ruling Against Microsoft

January 29, 2004

Developers of a University of Rochester computer technology have won a major court ruling against Microsoft Corporation. An Arizona judge has ruled that Microsoft infringed on patents on the technology, called “Blue Noise Mask,” which makes possible the rapid creation of high-quality halftone images.

The technology is the subject of six U.S. patents and several international patents, filed and owned by Research Corporation Technologies (RCT), a company that invests in and commercializes university-based research. The University assigned ownership of the patents to RCT, which manages this technology and markets it to the computer and printing industry.

The decision, in addition to a prior ruling favorable to the University, means that many of Microsoft’s most well-known products, including Windows 2000, Windows XP, Office 2000, and Office XP, among others, infringe on the patents.

At the time of the invention in the early 1990s, the Blue Noise Mask derived halftones—printed images such as those from common printers or fax machines—about 45 times faster than the leading technology. The inventors are engineers Kevin Parker, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Theophano Mitsa, now an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Massachusetts.

The pair began their project in an effort to improve the printouts of ultrasound images, where tiny visual mistakes or “artifacts” can be a serious hindrance to diagnosis and treatment. The research resulted in a new technology that eliminates artifacts not only in ultrasound images but in other images as well. In halftoning technology, “blue noise” refers to a certain type of pattern of black and white dots that has visually pleasing properties.

“This research is a great example of the unforeseen benefits of basic research at a university,” Parker has previously noted. “What started out as a medical imaging research project ended up as a technology that improves printing speed and quality in printers throughout the world.”

Many companies, including Hewlett-Packard, Lexmark International, and Seiko-Epson, have licensed the technology, which is widely used in the computing graphic arts and printing industry around the world.

The University was recently ranked sixth in the nation for license revenue in a survey published in the Chronicle of Higher Education. At $42 million, the University was only behind Columbia University, University of California System, New York University, Florida State University, and Stanford University. The ranking was based on figures from fiscal year 2002 in a survey conducted by the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM).

RCT is represented by Brian E. Ferguson and other attorneys from the Washington, D.C., law firm McDermott, Will, & Emery.