Today, Honeywell International has nothing much to do with photography – it’s a diversified high-tech manufacturer of aerospace and automotive products and control systems for buildings and industry.
Nonetheless, the company still owns patents covering autofocus technology, and those patents have been a gold mine for the company in recent years. Even though Honeywell isn’t using the autofocus technology itself, it’s illegal for other companies to infringe its patents, and in 1992 Honeywell received infringement settlements totaling $314.5 million from 14 camera makers, including Canon, Chinon, Kodak, Konica, Kyocera, Matsushita, Minolta, Nikon, Premier, Ricoh, and Vivitar.
Now it’s Matsushita Electric Industrial Company’s turn to pay. A federal jury has ordered Japan’s Victor Company, the unit of Matsushita that makes JVC consumer electronics, to pay Honeywell $30 million for infringing a patent that covers the autofocus systems used in most home video cameras.
Later this year the court will decide whether Victor willfully infringed on the patent, as Honeywell claims – if so, the penalty could be tripled. The Honeywell lawsuit against Victor began in 1999 and is the last in Honeywell’s series of “autofocus” lawsuits.