Motorola Only the Latest of Apple’s Many Legal Woes


Today, Motorola filed suit regarding three complaints against Apple over patent infringements. The complaints deal with antenna design and other associated smartphone technologies covered in 18 patents held by Motorola. According to Kirk Daily (via CNNMoney), Motorola Mobility’s corporate VP of intellecual property, legal action was a last resort taken after licensing negotiations with Apple broke down.

But that’s hardly the end of Apple’s legal problems. The company was slapped with $625 million in legal penalties this week for infringing on three patents, at a rate of $208 million per infraction. Obviously, Apple’s already challenged the verdict, as would any corporation, but the ruling is blood in the water for Cupertino’s foes.

The case was brought by Mirror Worlds, and presents a legitimate case, not just the usual patent trolling fare. Mirror Worlds, a company founded by Yale computer science professor David Gelernter, claimed it held patents infringed upon by Apple through its Time Machine and Cover Flow features, among others. Mirror Worlds held patents regarding automated backups and flipping through digital album covers that are remarkably similar to the tech used in today’s Macs and iOS devices.

The verdict was rendered by jury in a Texas district court, and would represent one of the largest ever awards in patent suit history in the U.S., if upheld. Even a $625 million pay out won’t really dent Apple’s $40 billion on hand, but that’s not where the real hurt lies.

Apple is currently embroiled in a large number of legal disputes over patents. Here’s a list of some of the more high-profile cases:

  • Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s company Interval Licensing filed suit against Apple, along with Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others in August for infringing on a number of patents relating to fundamental web technology developed in the early 90s.
  • Kodak accused Apple in January of this year of using on of its digital imaging patents regarding previews in the iPhone, along with smartphone rival RIM. Apple is also singled out for two more infringement suits from the camera pioneer, including one regarding the ability to process images of differing resolutions.
  • Apple, along with Google and others, is named in a suit brought by NTP, a patent holding firm, in June 2010. The suit concerns patents held by NTP about wireless email delivery, and an earlier suit against RIM resulted in a $612 million settlement.
  • Perhaps the most highly publicized, Nokia is suing Apple over 10 patents it owns regarding wireless handset technology. The suit came after negotiations regarding licensing fees with Apple broke down. Apple is countersuing over 13 of its own patents.
  • Tune Hunter named Apple along with a whole slew of others in its 2009 suit regarding music recognition tech. Tune Hunter holds a patent for a music identification and purchasing system that is says resembles far too closely the tech in use by Shazam.

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s representative of the kind of heat Apple’s been facing since becoming a top dog in the tech realm. Now that one of these efforts has hit paydirt, it’s unlikely the tide will be stemmed anytime soon. The smell of money is a heady intoxicant.

As unseemly as it might be, Apple has the right idea with its countersuit of Nokia. The only way to deal with this kind of issue is to defend your patents vigorously, or face losing the farm. While things definitely won’t get better in the near future for Apple as its star continues to rise, whether or not this latest verdict is upheld will determine if things get much worse, and possibly begin to have an impact on the company’s ability to do business.

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

You're subscribed! If you like, you can update your settings


Comments have been disabled for this post