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Filmlight interview

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Facing a patent-infringement lawsuit from Kodak over the use of infrared technologies in its NorthLight 2 film scanner to detect dust, dirt and scratches, Peter Stothart, Filmlight’s commercial director expressed confidence in his company’s position.
“We’re 100 percent convinced that we don’t infringe anything,” he said. “We intend to go through with it, and some year-and-a-half from now, we would be astonished if a jury finds that we’re infringing.”
In 2004, Kodak acquired Texas-based Applied Science Fiction, which gave the company a portfolio of patents covering things like the use of an infrared light source in slide scanners, defect mapping, and image concealment and image correction techniques.
The company has been seeking a $25,000-a-year license fee from post houses for its Digital ICE automated concealment package, which comes integrated into the new infrared-enabled ArriScan film scanners. Imagica is expected to release its version of Kodak’s IR technology sometime next year (on the same terms).
But Filmlight’s new Northlight 2 includes an infrared alpha channel, without the controversial license fee.
“It isn’t our business model to rent things to people. You don’t rent application software,” he said. “We all know that that’s how business is done in this industry.”
According to Stothart, Filmlight’s infrared dust-busting system isn’t related to Kodak’s, and in fact, even predates it. “Kodak has no knowledge of the design of the NorthLight 2 scanner. They have none because we haven’t given them any.”
He explained that back in the ’80s the BBC developed infrared dust and scratch detection systems for telecine equipment, and that Northlight’s infrared system draws a direct lineage from that. “Ian Childs was the inventor. That was patented at the time, but the patent was not renewed. It constitutes prior art, and that prior art has effectively made it very difficult for Kodak in their desire to duplicate US patents elsewhere in the world.”
And while the case, which is being heard in US District Court (Southern District of New York), could turn into a prolonged legal squabble that drags on for years, according to Stothart. “I know that the potential proceeds are far less than the cost of any action, so it doesn’t make business sense,” he said.
“I don’t think it would be wise for either party to not consider settlement, but if push comes to shove, we know we’re in the right. We’re defending our users’ position rather than just our own. But if it’s not settable, we’ll take it full term.”
In the meantime, other dust-busting technologies based on complicated motion-estimation algorithms are making huge headway in the industry.
“Infrared only represents a small portion of an ‘efficiency path’ which may well change in the next couple years anyway, as better techniques come along,” said Stothart. “Over the past couple years, we’ve seen great improvements in products from The Pixel Farm, MTI and The Foundry. They allow you to pretty effectively and efficiently remove dust and dirt purely from the RGB optical image.”
“Issues like this retard the cause of film and promote direct digital acquisition, because it will become simpler and less encumbered,” he said. “We promote the use of film. We want people to use film.”

Written by Scott Lehane

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