Australian IT industry pioneer, inventor and former INXS roadie Ric Richardson appears to have had the last laugh in a long running patent infringement case against Microsoft – though it’s unclear if he has got close to the $388 million that a US jury several years awarded the company he founded.
The cheery, free-living Richardson – who for some years was domiciled in a VW Kombi – won fame back in 1994 as inventor of an anti-piracy software system called Uniloc. I first met Richardson back in 1993 when he was starting to ramp up sales of his new product which back then was written in DOS.
In those rough old days for the industry, Uniloc’s big differentiating feature wasn’t that it stopped would-be pirates from accessing software: indeed it encouraged them. But when they attempted to start an illegally copied version of software protected by the system, they would find themselves with a demo version and the offer to ring into a sales office, give a credit card number and be handed an authorisation code to unlock the full package.
Many did just that.
The Uniloc system worked for IBM and WordPerfect, and Microsoft appeared to love it when Ric Richardson later showed it to them. But no sale ensued and when something remarkably similar later bobbed up protecting versions of Office – without any arrangement with Richardson – he sued.
In 2009, after years of legal jousting, a US jury agreed that Microsoft had infringed the Uniloc patent and ordered it to pay US$388 million to Richardson and the Singapore-based company he had founded to market it.
But a few months later a US judge threw that verdict out on appeal, and Richardson has been struggling for justice ever since. This week Microsoft and Uniloc have reached what both are describing as a “final and mutually agreeable resolution”.
“It’s over!” Richardson said in a blog yesterday “At some stage, what this means for Uniloc and Microsoft will become more apparent, but for me as the inventor it means the question mark hanging over my patent is no longer in question.”
How much, if anything, did he score? Richo, who left Uniloc in 2007, isn’t saying – but he did tell ITNews the result was ” as valuable as I could expect”.
“That means more resources to do other things and it legitimises the whole Uniloc business,” he said.