Second Top Story of 2013: ABBYY Beats Nuance in Court

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In a case that went on for more than five years, ABBYY finally prevailed in a lawsuit related to OCR patent infringement. The case was heard over two weeks in August in a federal court in San Francisco. ABBYY was awarded a “clean sweep,” in the words of its general counsel. “The jury found no infringement on any of Nuance’s patent or trade dress claims.”

Nuance had been seeking $107 million from ABBYY and its customer Lexmark. Nuance’s claims were related to OCR patents that were filed for in the late 1980s and early 1990s and granted in the 1990s and and early 2000s. The case started with six patents in question, but was narrowed down to three by the time it came to trial – two of which Nuance had picked up in its 2000 acquisition of Caere.

ABBYY’s defense was “non-infringement.” The patents had been through a reexamination, so arguing
that they were invalid was not an option,” said LeighAnn Weiland, VO and general counsel for ABBYY USA.“If you look at ABBYY’s methods as compared to the very simplified processes in the patents that Nuance is alleging we violated, it’s very clear that ABBYY is not infringing. What Nuance has patented is analogous to building a bicycle, while we are building jet airplanes.”

There are not that many developers of OCR technology left on the market, but ABBYY’s win was certainly a victory for those that are left, as well as end users – including those who utilize Google’s Open Source OCR. Had Nuance won, we’re assuming it would have gone after patent licensing agreements with everyone else in the market. And while Nuance still could go after patent infringement by other vendors (whose development methods presumably differ from ABBYY’s), ABBYY is their biggest and most direct competitor, and this loss will certainly take the wind out of Nuance’s sails – in addition to money out of its pockets that could be used for further litigation.

It’s probably worth noting that Nuance’s legal team for the case included outside counsel from Morrison & Foerster LLP, the same firm that represented Apple in its patent suit against Samsung. “We were up against the best of Silicon Valley,” said an elated Weiland. “It’s quite gratifying that our team could work like a little machine to convince a jury of what we believe are the actual facts of the case.”

The verdict brought to an end an important case that we had been covering since 2008.

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