3M seeks licensing of laser control protocol

February 27, 1991

3M and Kodak are negotiating a licensing arrangement for the 3Mlaser printer protocol. If a deal is signed, scanner vendors tryingto hook lasers to their medical imaging systems should breathea sigh of relief. 3M is also negotiating laser protocol

3M and Kodak are negotiating a licensing arrangement for the 3Mlaser printer protocol. If a deal is signed, scanner vendors tryingto hook lasers to their medical imaging systems should breathea sigh of relief.

3M is also negotiating laser protocol licensing arrangementswith Agfa and Du Pont, said Brian Sabo, 3M product developmentmanager for laser imagers. The camera vendor hopes to finalizethese talks in 30 to 60 days, he said.

Kodak confirmed that it is negotiating with 3M to gain accessto that vendor's laser printer protocols, but preferred not toprovide details while talks are under way.

The conflict over proprietary protocols has clouded what isotherwise a major milestone on the road to digital medical imagingnetworks, said Michael Gray, president of Adaptive Video. Mostmanufacturers of computed tomography and magnetic resonance imagingsystems are providing digital printer ports on their new scannersthat use a standard data interface.

"The manufacturers have suddenly given us a standard interface.It is not ACR/NEMA and it is only eight bits, but it is stilla powerful tool," Gray told SCAN.

In order to interface a laser with a scanner, a laser controlprotocol is needed, along with the data interface and controlprotocols specific to each laser. A scanner needs the controlprotocol for a laser in order to tell the peripheral device whatto print and how (in what format) to print it, Gray said.

3M's older 831 control protocol has been widely used for sometime, and it is questionable whether the laser vendor could enforcelicensing of this software. However, 3M has maintained strictercontrol over its more advanced 952 protocol, Gray said.

Scanner manufacturers that implement the 952 protocol on theirinterfaces have had to sign agreements with 3M stating that theywould not use the 3M control specifications on lasers providedby any other vendor, he said.

Most scanner vendors include multiple control protocols withtheir digital ports, with one exception--and that is the rub.The exception is GE Medical Systems.

GE, the largest scanner vendor, will use only the 3M 952 protocolon its digital printer ports, which have not yet been introduced,Gray said.

This means that, unless 3M signs a licensing agreement withanother laser manufacturer, either a 3M laser must be used withthe new GE digital port or an interface must be obtained froman independent supplier that does have a licensing arrangementwith 3M.

Vortech Data, which entered into a digital imaging partnershipwith Kodak last year, does have permission to use the 3M protocol.But there are restrictions on Kodak's ability to get around the3M license requirements by using a Vortech network, Sabo noted.Kodak therefore has had to deal directly with 3M.

A driving force behind this interface controversy is 3M's desireto maximize its laser film sales. While most laser vendors manufacturefilm compatible with the 3M laser as well as film for their owncameras, 3M makes laser film only for the 3M laser, Gray said.

"You have to realize that 3M is a film company as muchas a laser imager producer," Sabo said. "Our desireis to have as much of a (laser) market share as possible so wecan sell as much film as possible."