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Summary:

A Silicon Valley firm called NoiseFree says it showed Apple its secret noise cancellation technology in a series of meetings but that Apple then turned around and used the technology without permission for its iPads and iPhones.

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photo: Fer Gregory

A Silicon Valley firm called Noise Free says it showed Apple its secret noise cancellation technology in a series of meetings but that Apple then turned around and used the technology without permission for its iPad and iPhone devices.

Now Noise Free is suing Apple for patent infringement, trade secret theft and breach of contract. The firm’s complaint, filed last week in San Jose, Calif., also wants the court to declare that Apple is not entitled to receive a pending patent application for noise-canceling technology.

Noise Free’s claim is based on allegations that it “solved the problem” of background noise by developing techniques that detect external sounds and cancel them before they are transmitted into a device’s receiver. For the average consumer, that means the people they talk to on the phone while in public are less likely to hear sounds like buses, office noise or restaurant din.

In its tale of corporate skullduggery, Noise Free claims that it provided Apple with PowerPoint presentations and documentation about how its technology worked and even supplied it circuit boards and a mock-up phone. Its complaint adds that “Apple’s head of mobile phones and tablets was called into the meeting to learn about Noise Free’s technology.”

The company says that Apple then broke off talks in 2009 and ultimately chose another supplier called Audience to provide it with noise-canceling components. Noise Free also claims that Apple filed for a patent in 2010 based on its technology and that the two listed investors on the application had attended the presentations that Noise Free made to Apple. (Apple’s patent application 12/794,643 can be found here.)

Noise Free says that Apple is violating its own patent, US Patent 7742790, “Environmental noise reduction and cancellation for a communications device” and is seeking damages and an injunction against Apple devices.

The lawsuit coincides with a dramatic increase in litigation across the mobile landscape. Our mobile editor, Kevin Tofel, speculates that this could be because we’re at the end of the current mobile innovation cycle.

Apple did not immediately return a request for comment.

Here is a copy of Noise Free’s complaint:

Noise Free v Apple
(Image by Fer Gregory via Shutterstock)

  1. If Audience is the company that is providing the noise-canceling components to Apple, I don’t see any patent infringement, trade secret theft and breach of contract there. Unless of course Audience is also an Apple company.

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  2. Stephen Adolph Monday, July 9, 2012

    You would need to (1) read the issued claims and (2) understand what Apple is making/using/selling to have an opinion as to infringement by Apple.

    This, people, is why you patent your technology. One useful thing to do is incorporate commercial restrictions in your NDA relating to the disclosure.

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  3. Your link for “US Patent 7742790″ is rather malformed.

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    1. Fixed, thanks GW.

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  4. All it takes to provide background noise reduction is two small and inexpensive microphones. No big deal.

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    1. Then why don’t you make it and get rich while doing so?

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      1. I’m saying that background noise reduction doesn’t require new and amazing technology…just a simple method using analog circuits that’s been known for decades. What we’re seeing here may be one of these patent fights which have (probably correctly) been labeled an abuse of the patent system.

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  5. Why is the patent office allowing such similar patents? Don’t they check for preexisting patents anymore?

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  6. michael yang Tuesday, July 10, 2012

    Why did noise free show the noise canceling technology in the first place?

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  7. great article
    interesting to read

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