Palm and Xerox have settled a nine-year-long patent battle over the handwriting-recognition technology used in the Palm handhelds. Palm will hand over US$22.5 million to Xerox, which will cover the nine years of alleged infringement and buy another seven years of patent peace for the handheld maker and copier/printer giant.
Xerox’s Unistrokes handwriting recognition was supposedly the basis for Graffiti, the text input method so familiar to millions of Palm users. After noticing the similarity between Graffiti and Unistrokes in 1997, Xerox filed suit against US Robotics, which owned Palm at the time. Back then, the Palm Pilot was in the midst of revitalizing the PDA market due in no small part to the easy-to-learn Graffiti data entry method.
Feeling the pressure from the lawsuit, Palm licensed another handwriting recognition technology, Jot, as the basis for Graffiti 2. The change to Graffiti 2 in 2003 was not welcomed by most Palm users. I remember getting a replacement Kyocera 7135 smartphone around that time that had the unfamiliar and unintuitive Graffiti 2 installed. Although Palm could go back to using Graffiti 1 if it chose to, it’s a bit late—consumers seem to have become accustomed to miniature QWERTY keyboards over the past couple of years.
Since the lawsuit was filed, the competitive landscape has changed markedly. Palm no longer rules the PDA market, and in fact, now makes devices that run Windows Mobile rather than Palm OS. Xerox, despite vigorously defending its patent, has never made an attempt to create or market its own PDA. Either way, a long patent battle is over; does the US$22.5 million Xerox settled for make the fight worthwhile?