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Honeywell, Minolta Square Off in Patent Dispute

September 24, 1991 GMT

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ A lawyer for Honeywell Inc. claimed in federal court Tuesday that Minolta Camera Co. used patented technology and trade secrets to develop a popular autofocus camera.

Minolta’s lawyers countered that Honeywell was unable to make its own inventions work and now wants to cash in on the success of Minolta’s Maxxum autofocus system.

Honeywell is seeking at least $174 million in royalties for alleged patent infringements and an unspecified amount for alleged trade secret violations. A trial in the 4-year-old case opened Tuesday.

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Minolta, a Japanese manufacturer with U.S. headquarters in Ramsey, sells about $800 million worth of Maxxum cameras and lenses in the United States annually.

″We’re not here because Minolta did something wrong,″ Minolta attorney Fred Michaud told jurors during opening arguments. ″We’re here because we did something right and succeeded.″

Michaud said Honeywell had no real claims because the patents and contract in question were invalid.

Even if they were valid, the attorneys asserted Minolta did nothing wrong because it developed its own autofocus system that was different from Honeywell’s.

Michael Ciresi, attorney for Minneapolis-based Honeywell, told the jury that autofocus technology was the ″holy grail″ of the camera industry in the early 1980s and Minolta was unable to master it until after it signed a contract with Honeywell.

The contract involved sharing data about a soon-to-be marketed Honeywell autofocus module in exchange for an agreement that the part would be included in cameras the companies made.

″Minolta used the information, but they never used the Honeywell part,″ Ciresi said.

He also said the team working on the Minolta autofocus system and the one reviewing Honeywell’s technology shared the same work space and some people worked on both teams.

George Graff, another Minolta lawyer, said the information-sharing contract was not valid because Honeywell was so eager to cash in on its development that it signed numerous agreements with makers of 95 percent of the world’s cameras.

The trial is expected to last up to 15 weeks before U.S. District Judge Alfred M. Wolin.

The trial was moved up after Honeywell asked the International Trade Commission in June 1990 to stop all imports of Minolta cameras.

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Honeywell officials said they were frustrated by delays in the lawsuit, filed in 1987, and hoped the ITC would bring quicker results. The request was withdrawn after Wolin agreed to expedite the trial.

The case has drawn the attention of other camera makers, whom Honeywell says also are infringing on its patents. They have not been sued, but numerous attorneys attended the opening statements.