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December 23, 2006

Sage plays safe and licenses Timeline patent

Sage Software Inc has bought non-exclusive rights to certain Timeline Inc software patents that automate the design of data marts and OLAP cubes, a move that will guard against possible patent infringement lawsuits down the road.

By CBR Staff Writer

Under the terms of the agreement, Sage will be provide integrated data mart capabilities within its ERP, accounting, CRM and business intelligence products which are aimed at small and medium-sized firms.

Timeline, which is based in Irvine, California, is a curious company to say the least. Its corporate boilerplate bills the company as a developer and marketer of patented Microsoft Windows-based financial management reporting software which it licenses to a cadre of ISVs including Microsoft, Oracle, Cognos, Business Object, Hyperion Solutions, and Lawson Software.

However it seems the company also makes a fair living out of defending its patents in court, rather than selling software. In 2004 the company managed to get a settlement that forced Canadian business intelligence firm Cognos to cough up $1.75m (without liability). Before that the company has also filed successful suits against Oracle, Sagent Technology (bought by Group 1 Software) and Clarus.

Timeline is currently embroiled in another patent dispute with another BI vendor, ProClarity.

Sage officials confirmed that the company is developing a range of BI products that tightly integrate with its expanding BI product suite.

Sage CEO Ron Verni said that product development has already begun, and said that Sage’s IntelligentApps BI product is already being sold to large companies like Morgan Stanley, Shell and Reuters for complex financial analysis.

We’ll be providing advanced analytics within Sage CRM SalesLogix later this year as a new component of the mid-market Sage Business Intelligence application.

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Verni also said that a new product, called Sage Intelligent Reporting, will be launched in March initially to Sage’s Line 50 UK-based customers. This will deliver true BI capability out-of-the-box for small businesses.

Timeline’s strategy of aggressively defending its BI patents stem from a 2003 ruling which confirmed that an 1999 licensing agreement between Timeline and Microsoft Corp does in fact restrict Microsoft’s ability to sublicense Timeline’s patented data warehouse and data mart design technology which is widely employed in its SQL Server database product.

In layman’s terms, this basically means that means that SQL Server users, including ISVs or custom VARs that have created a new product by adding their own code, now have to pay a licensing fee to use Timeline’s technology.

In September last year Timeline sold off its software licensing operations (and the majority of its employees) and Analyst product suite to Global Software Add in order to focus on its patent portfolio. The company says it holds five US patents, totaling over 125 separate claims on what it calls very significant technology.

Sage Software, formerly called Best Software, is part of the UK-based Sage Group plc.

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