University accuses IBM of stealing its technology

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An American university is claiming that IBM misappropriated technology it invented.

The action, which started in an Alabama district court last week, is based on technology created by Dr Adit Singh, the James B. Davis professor in the school of electrical engineering at Auburn University.

He, the filing says, is an expert in the assessment of defects in circuit technology and has won numerous awards and published numerous articles about the subject. Dr Singh is the current chairman of the IEEE Test Technology Technical Council.

It's alleged that Dr Singh, working with a student, Thomas Barnett, hit on methods where circuit components can be classified on their expected defect rate, allowing computer manufacturers to greatly reduce the cost of making integrated circuits and memories.

Auburn University filed the first of a number of patents relating to these methods in October 2001.

The filing continues: "Knowing this technology was and is lawfully Auburn's, IBM stole this technology and is now willfully and knowingly infringing Auburn's patent rights".

The patents in question are 7,194,366 and 7,409,306 - both are called "System and Method for Estimating Reliability of Components for Testing and Quality Optimization".

It's aleged that in 2001, while Barnett was still a graduate student at Auburn, IBM learned of his and Dr Singh's works - and asked the professor whether Barnett would be interested in spending a summer as an intern at Big Blue. He subsequently spent summer of 2001 as an intern at IBM's Burlington, Vermont site.

After that period was over, Barnett returned as a student and in 2001 while the Auburn patents were pending, IBM filed a patent application similar to its own, and subsequently filed a second patent in August 2003.

IBM, alleges Auburn, was not authorized to file patents on its behalf and knew of the university's rights to the technology.

IBM, "took control of AUburn's propety and wrongfully exercised that control in a manner inconsistent with Auburn's ownership....and converted property belonging to Auburn in known violation" of its rights.

The plaintiff seeks damages and other types of redress against IBM.