Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 10 News List

French lawsuit shocks defendants

By Bill Heaney  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH BLOOMBERG

At least one of the five companies cited in a patent-infringement law-suit by the French Atomic Energy Commission, or the Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique (CEA), was surprised to learn of the news yesterday.

"They claim we violate their patents in the US, the reports say, but we haven't had any official documents from CEA or from the courts," Eddie Chen (陳彥松), spokesman for Chi Mei Optoelectronics Corp (奇美電子), told the Taipei Times yesterday.

"When I read the news of the lawsuit from the press agencies, I was surprised," he said.

On Monday, France filed a federal suit in the US State of Delaware, claiming that Chi Mei, Dell Computer Corp, Samsung Electronics Co, Sun Microsystems Inc and Viewsonic Corp infringed a flat-panel patent.

The US patents, awarded to the French agency in 1987 and 1989, protect a design for displays used in flat-panel video monitors, the lawsuit says.

The commission "has invested substantial time and money in designing and developing" the technology, while the defendants "continue to transact business in the US" and derive revenue from their infringing products, the suit says.

In the last two months, Chi Mei has been in discussions with the French about two alleged patent infringements. The discussions had been successfully resolved, Chen said yesterday.

"In the past couple of months we had discussions with the CEA and we hired an attorney in the US to deal with the legal issues," Chen said.

"We thought we had settled two patent issues," he said.

Earlier in the day, Chi Mei had issued a statement, saying the company "will take all necessary steps to resolve" the new law-suit.

Pasquale Newton, a spokesman at the CEA in Paris, told the Times via telephone yesterday that he could not comment, saying he did not have the details of the case.

The other companies involved in the law-suit are equally in the dark.

Viewsonic's senior public relations manager in Taipei, Stephanie Tsai (蔡瓊文), had no information on the case yesterday.

Dell's spokeswoman in Singapore, Judy Low, had also received no instructions from head office.

At Sun Microsystems, Jessica Tsai (蔡淑芬), public relations manager for the Greater China Region, said that it was a matter for Sun's head office in the US.

On Thursday, Dell spokeswoman in the US, Mary Fad, told the Bloomberg wire service the company doesn't comment on pending suits.

The same day, Duane Brozek, a spokesman for closely held ViewSonic, said the company is aware of the suit, though it hasn't seen it and cannot comment.

Makers of liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) have stepped-up production, and prices have fallen, as demand increases for flat-panel screens in the US$28 billion worldwide retail monitor market, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Samsung, which claims to be the world's biggest maker of LCD monitors, said in March it will spend US$963 million to increase manufacturing capacity.

Flat-screen TV sales rose to US$204 million in the fourth quarter, according to DisplaySearch, an Austin, Texas-based market-research firm.

Since entering the flat-panel industry in 1999, Taiwan's flat-panel makers have risen rapidly to be the second largest producing nation in the world after the South Koreans, according to DisplaySearch.

Last year, Chi Mei shipped almost 5 million flat panels, netting NT$4.5 billion in income. The company plans to sell 8 million panels this year.

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