OLPC Sued for Allegedly Copying Keyboard Design

743 olpc
Lagos Analysis Corp. filed a lawsuit in Nigeria against the One Laptop Per Child Foundation saying the project copied its multilingual keyboard technology. The company is based in Natick, Mass.
Arthur Petron—The Tech

A Natick-based company filed a lawsuit against the One Laptop Per Child Foundation last Thursday, claiming OLPC copied its multilingual keyboard technology.

Lagos Analysis Corp. (Lancor), a company owned by Nigerians, filed the suit in Nigeria where the keyboard is patented. The suit was filed against OLPC, Founder Nicholas P. Negroponte ’66, and OLPC’s representatives in Nigeria.

Lancor is seeking unspecified damages from the group and a court injunction to halt sales of the XO laptop (originally known as $100 laptop) while the case is litigated.

Lancor plans to file suit in U.S. courts as well, alleging copyright and contract violation, said Lancor Co-President Walter Oluwole.

According to OLPC’s official statement, OLPC is aware of Lancor’s claims but “has not been served with any legal documents related to this alleged suit as of this time.”

“OLPC has requested that LANCOR identify the patents or copyrights in question, but the company has yet to substantiate its claim against OLPC with any documentation,” the statement continues. “OLPC has the utmost respect for the rights of intellectual property owners and all the intellectual property used in the XO Laptop is either owned by OLPC or properly licensed.”

Oluwole said the OLPC attorneys have contacted Lancor’s attorneys.

Lancor has records that Negroponte ordered two of its Konyin keyboards online, Oluwole said. Oluwole claimed OLPC “reverse engineered” the Konyin keyboard to use its software as the basis for the keyboard of the XO laptop and published the heavily adopted source code online for the public to see.

Such copying is forbidden under Nigerian patent law, Lancor Founder Ade Oyegbola told The Boston Globe. In addition to its patent in Nigeria, the Konyin keyboard’s technology has a patent pending in the United States, Oluwole said.

Oluwole said no other company has Konyin’s shift-key technology that allows users to directly add accents to letters. The Nigerian government attempted to create such a multilingual keyboard for 23 years but failed because of the large number of Nigerian languages, he said. Nigeria has over 250 recognized languages. The Konyin keyboard, successful in handling the 250 languages, took eight years to engineer, he said.

In January 2007, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a friend of Oyegbola noticed a striking similarity between the keyboard of an early version of the XO on display and the Konyin keyboard, which he owned, Oyegbola told the Globe. Oyegbola said he saw a document describing a keyboard layout nearly identical to his own on OLPC’s Web site after he heard about the likeness from his friend.

Oluwole said they began trying to get in touch with Negroponte in January. For three weeks, Lancor attempted to reach Negroponte without success until the company was finally turned down, he said.

Lancor did not want to go to the media and file the lawsuit, but “we have not been able to communicate with this person,” Oluwole said. Lancor wants Negroponte to understand he violated our rights, he said.

Oluwole said he has been subject to numerous hate messages via e-mail and phone because of the lawsuit.

Negroponte, former director of the MIT Media Lab, launched OLPC in 2005 with the intent of providing a high-quality yet low-cost laptop to children in developing countries. The XO laptop, which is rain-resistant and solar-powered, uses the open-source Linux operating system and features wireless Internet connectivity.