ITK/Patent Bazaar

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The Insight Toolkit provides a very open licensing mechanism that allows the use of the software for research, education and comercial applications. This very open license enters in conflict with methods that have been patented. In short, patented methods have inherit restrictions that make them non-suitable to be distributed under the ITK license. In plain words:

   Patented algorithms can not be distributed with ITK

A surprisingly large number of image processing algorithms and methods are covered in full or in part a patents. What makes this even more dificult is the fact that in order to figure out if a particular method is patented you have to search on your own. This page is intended as an open space to welcome any notifications regarding methods that have been patented. In this way, users of the toolkit will be able to make informed decisions regarding whether they use or not such methods. The responsibility for seeking permision from patent holders remains in the users.

Where to search for Patents

The following are the official databases where you can search for issued patents.

United States Patent and Trademark Office

Commercial patent search databases also exist.

WARNING: Research is NOT Exempted

Contrary to widespread belief, patented methods are NOT freely available for research or education. That is, the fact that you use a patented method for research or education DO NOT exempt you from requiring to obtain a license from the patent holder.

The U.S. Supreme court ruled recently on this issue regarding the case Madey v. Duke University,

Quote from Science Journal, Vol 299, Issue 5603, 26-27 , 3 January 2003:

Critics say the October decision,* in Madey v. Duke University, effectively ends a 170-year-old practice of allowing scientists to freely borrow patented technologies for limited use in basic research that isn't aimed at commercial ventures. The universities are asking the high court to review--and ultimately overturn--the decision by a special patent court, because they believe it will hinder research by forcing scientists to obtain permission before using patented technologies.

"The decision transforms the academic science landscape in a horribly perverse way," says David Korn of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C., one of the groups leading the charge. "It means that [government] research funds will be diverted into legal and administrative costs."

A lower court sided with Duke, ruling in 1999 that the university wasn't infringing because its researchers were using the devices "for experimental, nonprofit purposes only." That standard is rooted in an 1831 case. But a federal appeals court reversed the decision in October, noting that Duke is a businesslike entity that profited from the use of the lasers. The research "unmistakably further[ed Duke's] legitimate business objectives, including educating and enlightening students and faculty" and helped it "lure lucrative research grants," wrote Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Arthur Gajarsa.

That language outraged many university research advocates because it implies that the research exemption doesn't apply in an academic setting. "To categorize a research university, with its educational mission, as just another commercial operation borders on ludicrous," says Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel of the American Council on Education (ACE) in Washington, D.C. It will be "disastrous," he says, if researchers have to stop and conduct expensive, time-consuming patent searches and make licensing deals every time they want to bring a new technology or technique into the lab.

It also will be difficult for administrators to keep track of which researchers are using patented material, adds James Severson, the new provost for intellectual property at the University of Washington, Seattle. "Academic scientists often don't know, and don't even think about, whether something is protected by a patent," he says. But the cost of not paying attention could be high, experts say, since alleged infringers could face triple-damages lawsuits.

Madey and some patent attorneys say that the threat of financial punishment is needed in a world where universities increasingly profit from their own patent portfolios--and sue infringers. The decision also follows legal precedent, they add. "What the court said isn't surprising to most businesses, but I guess it's seen as unusual because the case [involved] a university," says Madey's attorney, Randall Roden of Tharrington Smith in Raleigh, North Carolina. It's been 70 years since a university was involved in a similar, potentially precedent-setting case, other attorneys note.

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