Advanced Imaging


Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: July 8th, 2008 05:26 PM CDT

Untitled Article



November 2002


Natick, MA—The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Cognex Corporation in regard to their lawsuit against the Lemelson Medical, Education & Research Foundation. This ruling lets Cognex raise the doctrine of patent prosecution laches as a defense against Lemelson's infringement claims, and goes back to September 1998, when Cognex filed suit against Lemelson after the latter sued over 800 businesses for patent infringement. Most have settled, but Lemelson still has lawsuits against hundreds of other companies using machines to scan products.

Time may bring justice for Cognex.
Time may bring justice for Cognex.

In its lawsuit, Cognex claims certain machine vision patents assigned to Lemelson were invalid, unenforceable and not infringed upon by Cognex or Cognex product users. This lawsuit has been combined with a suit filed by Symbol Technologies and 7 other barcode scanning manufacturers.

Michael Steir, Cognex's Vice President of Corporate Legal Services, says that prosecution laches bars a patent owner from enforcing a patent claim if there was an unreasonable delay in seeking the claim. An unreasonable delay, he believes, passed before Lemelson began prosecuting its claims—in some cases over 30 years—thus constituting prosecution laches.

The Appeals Court sided with Cognex, compelling the District Court judge to make the laches argument available. The implications of this decision, says Steir, are vast. "As a practical matter, if I'm a judge and I know Lemelson will appeal to the Supreme Court, I'd be skeptical in making a decision that ultimately might be reversed by a future decision. This argument is huge—it's probably one of the best defense we have available to us." The decision sets a precedent, one the companies still battling Lemelson can call upon in their own defense.

Although exact numbers are hard to come by, the total amount paid out to Lemelson to date is said to be on the order of a billion dollars. The Appeals Court's opinion in the Cognex case, as well as the Supreme Court's decision not to review or un-do that opinion in any way, might change that scenario going forward. "Now potential litigants will understand the defense much more," Steir says, "and it will be used more frequently, with a greater level of certainty."

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