Businesses Face Large Y2K Licensing Fees

THE JOURNAL RECORD, November 12, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Businesses Face Large Y2K Licensing Fees


NEW YORK (AP) B Some businesses that thought they'd fixed their Y2K problems may still find themselves in for a millennial shock.

Companies that use the most popular technique for eradicating the Year 2000 bug are getting an unexpected bill for thousands, even millions of dollars in licensing fees. The man who invented the process wants to be paid for it.

At least 70 percent of companies use the process, known as windowing, to make their computers Y2K ready, analysts say. Bruce Dickens, who worked at McDonnell Douglas, developed and patented the technique.

"If it stands, the implications are huge," said Dale Vecchio, Y2K research director at the Gartner Group, a technology consulting firm. "Mr. Dickens is going to be a rich man."

The Year 2000 problem could occur because some computer programs were written to recognize only the last two digits of a year and could read the digits "00" as 1900 instead of 2000.

The windowing fix involves tricking the computer into thinking the century rollover is decades away. Programmers instruct software to interpret digits lower than a "pivot" number, such as 30, to represent the 21st century. Higher digits would represent the 20th century.

For example, a software with a pivot of "30" would interpret year "00" through "29" as 2000 to 2029 but assume years "30" through "99" to be in the 1900s. The fix is short term but popular because it is relatively easy and cheap.

Y2K experts say the procedure existed long before the government granted the patent in 1998. But proving that in court can be costly, so some companies may opt to pay the fee instead.

"Even if you think it's a flimsy patent, it might be worth paying off," said Jonathan Band, an intellectual property lawyer.

About 30 other Y2K-related patents exist, but most deal with specialized techniques for specific products.

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