Tokyo court orders popular word processor off market

The Tokyo District Court has suspended the production and sale of a word processing program that is the only serious competitor in Japan to Microsoft Corp.'s Word. The court also called for existing stocks of the program, called Ichitaro, to be destroyed. Justsystem Corp., which develops the software, said it plans to appeal.

The court ruling came in a patent dispute brought by Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. against Justsystem, based in Tokushima in western Japan. The suit involved Ichitaro and a graphics program called Hanako that is also sold by Justsystem Corp., according to Matsushita.

The dispute centered on the way that a help function works in the Ichitaro and Hanako software. The way the software presents information violates Matsushita patent number 2,803,236, which was registered with the Japanese patent office in 1998, according to Matsushita.

On Tuesday, the court granted Matsushita's claim of patent infringement, Matsushita said. Details of the ruling will be released in a few weeks, and Matsushita had no further comment to make at this time, Matsushita spokesman Yoshihiro Kitadeya said on Wednesday.

Justsystem started selling Ichitaro in August 1985 at the dawn of the personal computer industry in Japan. It sold the first version of Hanako in March 1987. While most word processing software is sold preinstalled on PCs, Ichitaro holds 78 percent of the market in Japan for word processing software sold separately at retail.

Justsystem is not taking the court's ruling lying down. It intends to appeal the decision -- which also asks it to pay legal costs -- within two weeks at the Tokyo High Court, said Yoichi Matsumoto, a company spokesman. Justsystem argues that its help function is based on established technologies that are not covered by any patent, according to Matsumoto.

Matsushita declined to say whether it thinks any other software vendors may be infringing its patent. It also would not say what licensing terms it was seeking from Justsystem.

Justsystem has shipped over 18 million units of Ichitaro since 1985. It accounted for about ¥4.8 billion yen (US$46.3 million), or about 38 percent, of the company's ¥12.6 billion in annual sales in 2004, Matsumoto said.

The company plans to launch its latest versions of Ichitaro and Hanako, called Ichitaro2005 and Hanako2005, on Feb. 10, said Matsumoto.

Matsushita, which sells its products under the Panasonic brand, claimed it was forced into legal action with Justsystem after its concerns were repeatedly ignored by the company, Kitadeya said. It first approached Justsystem in 1998, asking that it recognize its patent and agree to pay royalties, but it received no response, he said.

Matsushita then applied for a temporary injunction on the production and sale of Ichitaro and Hanako in November 2002, but withdrew that action in June 2003, he said. In August 2004, Matsushita filed suit again and asked the court for a permanent ban on the production and sale of both software titles, Kitadeya said.

"We are a global enterprise and we are just following international practice to enforce our IP (intellectual property) rights," Kitadeya said.

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