Wednesday, April 16, 2003


Local tech company claims patent infringement

Tom Sowa
Staff writer

An area technology company that develops high-end electronics cooling systems has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against the maker of some of the fastest computers on the planet.

Isothermal Research Systems, based in Clarkston and Liberty Lake, is asking for a jury trial to recover damages from Cray Inc., based in Seattle.

ISR is also seeking an injunction ordering Cray to stop selling products that allegedly misuse its high-performance cooling technology. Cray makes the X1 S
upercomputer, considered one of the most powerful machines of its kind.

ISR, in a suit filed in 2002, alleges Cray has used ISR's patented cooling technology within its X1 Supercomputers.

ISR, a private company first created in Clarkston, develops spray-cool processes that let computers and circuit boards operate more efficiently without overheating. Its largest contract has been for $35 million with the U.S. Navy for aircraft cooling systems. It has also tested systems for the U.S. Marine Corps.

The company employs about 110 workers; about 50 in Liberty Lake and the rest in Clarkston. Plans call for moving the bulk of the company to Liberty Lake later this year, said an ISR spokesman.

The federal lawsuit alleges Cray wrongly acquired some of ISR's cooling technology from another company that had previously done business with ISR.

Ron Sim, a Seattle attorney representing Cray, said the infringement allegation is false.

"Our response is that there was no patent infringement," said Sim.

Cray's court response further states ISR's patent is invalid because it wasn't new or unique.

Attorney Mark Hendricksen, representing ISR, said a trial set for early 2004 will determine the amount of damages.

He also said Cray's contention that ISR's patents are invalid is a standard defense in such lawsuits.

"A defendant (in a patent suit) without exception always states that the patent is invalid," said Hendricksen.

The suit alleges that Cray is using technology that ISR had earlier shared with Silicon Graphics Inc. SGI, based in California, makes high-performance computers.

In 2000, a Seattle company, Tera Computer, bought the Cray Research Division from SGI, then renamed itself Cray Inc. It began selling super-fast computers to the U.S. government and other large agencies.

The suit says, "Cray has moved forward with an evaporative spray cooling system which includes pre-existing technology protected by the patents of ISR."

That product development, according to the suit, only occurred because former SGI workers used ISR's processes in building the Cray X1.

There have been talks about a settlement, Hendricksen said. But both sides are moving forward, anticipating a trial next March, he said.

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