The Patents County Court also dismissed infringement actions brought by the patent holder, E-Data Corporation, against image licensing firms Getty Images and Corbis Corporation.
E-Data had sued the two firms in February last year, alleging that they enabled the sale and download of stock photos and images over the internet, in breach of the Freeny patent.
The patent – officially called "System for Reproducing Information in Material Objects at a Point of Sale Location" – was filed in 1985 by inventor Charles Freeny. It describes a system and method of distributing content over electronic and wireless networks.
However, Assistant Recorder Richard Arnold QC ruled on Wednesday that the patent did not apply to either Getty or Corbis’s processes for the on-line retail of digital images.
The court also found that the patent itself was invalid because it was anticipated by, or made obvious by an earlier US patent relating to “A self service terminal for dispensing voice and video information, printed documents and goods; and for accepting service orders and payments therefore by currency or credit card.”
Getty spokeswoman Deb Trevino told Internetnews.com:
"It's a validation of our entire business model – and even more broadly the industry in which we're operating. This dismissal recognises the fact that the business we're in of delivering imagery electronically through the internet has nothing to do with a patent developed in the 1980s, before any of this even existed."
The ruling follows a US appeal court decision in November 2000 which found that the Freeny patent did not cover sales of digital products downloaded only to PC hard drives. However, where digital products have been downloaded, streamed or copied to CD, paper or other storage media, the ruling said that the patent might apply.
Although the US patent expired in 2003, and the European patent is due to expire this year, E-Data has been aggressively suing for past violations of the patent.
In August last year it sued 14 US companies, including Amazon.com and Ticketmaster, saying they infringed the patent.