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Company suing OLPC asked for $20 million

By Grant Gross
January 2, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - A company suing the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Association for patent infringement has asked for US20 million to settle claims that the nonprofit had copied its keyboard.

Lagos Analysis Corp., or Lancor, is still trying to settle after filing the patent lawsuit in Federal High Court, Lagos Judicial Division in Nigeria, said Adé Oyegbola, Lancor's CEO. Lancor, now based in Natick, Massachusetts, has offices in Nigeria and owns a Nigerian patent for a four-shift keyboard, allowing computers to better handle multiple languages, Oyegbola said.

Oyegbola on Wednesday confirmed information published on the Groklaw blog saying that in August his company had asked OLPC for $20 million. That figure was based on OLPC information on potential distribution in Nigeria, Oyegbola said.

Nigeria, in July 2006, placed an order for 1 million of the laptops, but the Nigerian government is now reviewing that decision. Lancor's Konyin Multilingual Keyboards sell for $19.95, meaning 1 million of them would be worth approximately $20 million.

Lancor in December obtained a temporary injunction against OLPC distributing its laptop in the country.

"We didn't start the process because we're looking for the money," Oyegbola said. "It doesn't make sense for us not to protect our intellectual property."

Lancor, in its lawsuit, accuses OLPC of illegal reverse engineering its multilingual keyboard.

But OLPC had not yet begun selling its laptop at the time of the demand, OLPC's lawyer wrote in a letter published on Groklaw. "I feel obliged to note that, given the fact that OLPC has sold no multilingual keyboards, and that, according to Lancor's Web site, its multilingual keyboard sells for $19.95, your demand for $20 million is not well founded," lawyer Bruce Parker of the Foley Hoag law firm wrote.

Groklaw's Pamela Jones, a frequent critic of patent lawsuits against open-source projects, called the lawsuit "ridiculous."

"In short, they apparently jumped the gun, sending the dunning letter before OLPC had even shipped anything, not to mention that OLPC is a charity, not a business, and asking for money in a sum that doesn't match reality," she wrote.

A OLPC spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment.

Oyegbola said he hopes his company can still settle with OLPC. "We're hoping it doesn't get to [a trial]," he said. "It's in the hands of the lawyers now."

The evidence against OLPC is sketchy, Jones wrote on Groklaw. She questioned Oyegbola's motives, saying his actions may aid a rival project by Intel.

"Maybe this doomed litigation effort will last just long enough for a Nigerian knock-off of the OLPC, or the OLPC on Intel, to become ready for release," she wrote. "Maybe it's just about money a couple of guys want. Who knows why people do things like this?"

The goal of the nonprofit OLPC, founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Nicholas Negroponte, is to donate laptops to children in developing nations. Through Dec. 31, residents of the U.S. and Canada could donate $400 and get one laptop for themselves, while sending a second to a child overseas.

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Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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