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Liquid lens rivals begin legal action

23 Mar 2004

Varioptic of France believes Philips’ recently announced liquid lens infringes its patents.

Varioptic, the French start-up that is developing variable focus liquid-lenses, has reacted swiftly to the news that Philips Electronics is commercializing a similar technology.

Shortly after Philips went public with its plans to mass-produce its FluidFocus lenses (see related story) Varioptic announced that it believes that the Dutch firm’s technology infringes its patents and that it will take legal action.

“Our lawyers are convinced that the technology incorporated in the Philip’s demonstration product is covered by the scope of protection of Varioptic’s patents and that any of Philip’s products incorporating such technology will infringe Varioptic’s patents,” said the Lyon-based start-up in a statement last Wednesday.

“The decision to enforce our patents follows a written request to Gerard Kleisterlee the CEO of Philips Electronics requesting the basis on which Philips intends to produce products using our patented technology without a license or other agreement. The response to this letter made clear that Varioptic will have to take the necessary legal actions to enforce its patents.”

Varioptic says that it patented its electro-wetting lens technology in Europe, US and Asia in 1997 and 1999.

As to the differences between the competing designs Stein Kuiper, a researcher from Philips, told Optics.org two weeks ago that the Philips approach relies on a self-centerd liquid meniscus in a tube while Varioptic centers a liquid drop in a conical recess.

Both Philips and Varioptic were demonstrating prototype liquid lenses at CeBIT show in Hannover last week and are clearly chasing after the same kinds of application -- chiefly the use of liquid zoom lenses for tiny cameras in mobile phones and PDAs.

In fact, Varioptic appears to have made good progress in this area and has just signed a joint development agreement with Samsung Electro-Mechanics (SEMCO) for developing such cameras. At CeBIT, SEMCO was showing an auto-focus camera module based on a liquid lens at its booth.

Oliver Graydon is editor of Optics.org and Opto & Laser Europe magazine.

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