Encyclopedia Britannica loses patent ruling

The ruling closes another chapter in a long-running battle over a multimedia patent

A notorious patent case about a technology that allows people to search multimedia content may finally be coming to a close.

Earlier this week, a judge ruled that two patents initially awarded to Encyclopedia Britannica are invalid. The patents were built on the infamous 5,241,671 patent first unveiled by Compton's NewMedia in 1993 at the Comdex trade show.

That patent, which covered the retrieval of information from multimedia content and is now owned by Britannica, would have been relevant to the many companies selling multimedia CD-ROMs at the time.

But after an outcry from the technology industry, which argued that the technology had been around for some time and shouldn't have been patented, the U.S. Patent Office agreed to reconsider.

Nearly 10 years later, in 2002, the patent office issued a reexamination that narrowed the scope of the patent.

In the meantime, Britannica was awarded two patents that were built on the '671 patent. It filed suits charging infringement of those patents against a handful of companies with GPS technology, including Garmin, Alpine Electronics, Toyota and Honda.

One of the patents describes a way to use electronic maps and the other covers an electronic search system.

Last year, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, ruled that the narrowed '671 patent was invalid.

That same court earlier this week ruled that the two patents that Britannica argued Alpine and others had infringed are also invalid.

According to Alpine, Britannica is appealing last year's judgment on the '671 patent, and Alpine expects the company to also appeal this week's decision.

Britannica did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Nancy Gohring

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