Elan Sues to Ban Apple Multitouch Products in U.S. — Even the iPad

Elan Microelectronics filed suit against Apple with the U.S. International Trade Commission today, alleging that certain Apple products violate a multitouch patent previously awarded to the Taiwanese company. Elan in April of last year filed a related suit with the U.S. District Court in Northern California over the same patent — No. 7,274,353 — which it calls “a fundamental patent to the detection of multi-fingers that allows for any subsequent multi-finger applications to be implemented.”

By going to the ITC in addition to filing a patent infringement suit, Elan seeks to block Apple from importing its products into the U.S. that use multitouch, including the iPhone, iPod touch, MacBook, Magic Mouse and the iPad, which is due for release on April 3. Since Apple products are designed in Cupertino but assembled outside of the U.S., Elan is courting the appropriate trade commission that has authority to stop such products from reaching America’s shores. Notably, any ITC findings will be binding regardless of the patent lawsuit outcome, thanks to a loophole in U.S. patent law. Ironically, Apple is using this same strategy to try and block HTC from importing phones that Cupertino alleges violate its patents.

Elan is no stranger when it comes to protecting its intellectual property — in 2008, the California district courts deemed that some Synaptics touchpads violated this very same patent. The result of that suit was a licensing agreement between Elan and Synaptics. Although possible, I doubt that Elan v Apple will result in a similar deal. I wonder how many of those iPad pre-order customers like myself are hoping the slow delivery boat from China speeds up, just in case of some unlikely quick legal action?

Image courtesy of Apple

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