Microsoft sued over RoundTable camera
New York-based company FullView has filed a complaint against Microsoft at the Federal District Court for Northern California over a potential patent infringement. The subject of the complaint is Microsoft's RoundTable camera that sells for more than €2,000 as part of a video conferencing system. Fullview demands that Microsoft cease to sell this camera and pay three times the incurred losses in damages.
In the mid 90s, FullView's president Vic Nalwa worked at Bell Laboratories and developed a panoramic camera system which points four camera lenses upwards towards an upside-down pyramid of mirrors. The mirrors direct one quarter of the total 360 degree field of vision, for example images of the participants of a conference, the spectators in a stadium or the surroundings of an airport traffic control tower, to each camera. Among Fullview's most prominent users of this system is David Bowie, who used it for a livecast from New York's Looking Glass Studios in 1999.
Patent number 6,700,711, which was issued in both Nalwa's and the Fullview company's name on March 2, 2004, describes a "panoramic viewing system with a composite field of view". The specification is based on a patent granted in 1995 and on other associated patents.
Microsoft's RoundTable camera works along exactly the same lines, but uses five lenses pointed at five triangular mirrors. Microsoft announced the camera in March 2007 and has marketed it under the term Unified Communications with Office Communications Server 2007 and Office Live Meeting since last October.
Both cameras take the individual pictures and combine them to produce a 360-degree panoramic view. A high resolution region can be selected from a strip showing the entire field of vision. Microsoft's camera produces a 360-degree panoramic video strip which is 144 pixels high and 1086 pixels wide. The portraits of conference participants are transmitted in VGA resolution. Both the RoundTable camera and FullView's model FC-109 offer a resolution of exactly 3700 x 600 pixels.
Among other things, Microsoft is accused of having been aware of the patent when it started developing its own system in 2003 – even before FullView was granted the patent. Microsoft has not issued a statement. A spokeswoman said that Microsoft does not comment on pending lawsuits.