Hakan Lans (in Swedish Håkan Lans) is one of the great technological innovators of our time. He is the man behind the patented color graphics used on all computer screens around the world. He is also the inventor of a position indicating system, patented as well, which is of revolutionary importance for aviation, shipping and ground traffic. The system is also described by the term satellite navigation. Had this system been in use most of the great air accidents in the last years would probably not have occurred. The system is also of great economic importance since it allows for a much denser air traffic than presently.
But in spite of its good properties, and in spite of the fact that it has been available for several years, the system is still, in contrast to the color graphics, mainly just a possibility rather than a working reality. Resistance from those with vested interests in the prevailing technology, for instance the radar industry, is one of the reasons for this.
Lans has also met other obstacles. During a ten year period - 1985-1995 - he was involved in a lawsuit against the Japanese company Hitachi. The reason was Hitachi's use of color graphics in its personal computers. Ultimately, the litigation ended happily for Lans. His patent was recognized and he reached a settlement with Hitachi. IBM contributed considerably to this outcome by standing on Lans's side. IBM was, in fact, the first big company to sign a license for the color graphics.
In spite of this partial victory, however, a number of big companies persisted in using the patented color graphics without licenses. Among these were Dell and Hewlett Packard. In 1997 these companies were sued for patent infringement in the US. Since the ice was broken by the agreements with Hitachi and IBM the American process should have been relatively easy. The contingent fee agreement between Lans and his lawyers, as it seems, also gave the lawyers strong incentives for pushing Lans's case.
But in spite of this the lawyers succeeded in creating a total catastrophe for Lans. The patent infringement issue was never dealt with in court. Rather, various circumstances - among them an important declaration by Lans's own lawyer Mastriani under penalty of perjury - contributed to a remarkable outcome. The court decided that Lans should pay all the attorney fees, his own as well those of the defendants, that is the computer companies. This was exceptional since the main rule in a civil case in the US is that each side pays its own attorneys. The judgment was issued on September 6, 2001 - and it's this judgment which is the topic of the essay.
The sum total of the attorney fees has so far not been specified, but it was great and exceeded widely Lans's pecuniary paying ability. In a settlement proposal for the payment issue - from the defendants - the patent for the position indication system was therefore, although implicitly, suggested as payment! Lans was urged by his own lawyer to accept this proposal.
In the essay three hypotheses about the judgment are discussed. The first one is that the judgment was correct and in due order - that justice had been done. The second that the judgment was a result of lacking attorney skill - an accident in work. The third hypothesis, finally, says that the judgment was a planned judicial crime. The conclusion of the reasoning is that the judicial crime hypothesis is much more likely than the two other ones.
July 1, 2004