Apple targeted in patent infringement suit over its websites and iTunes


Apple is facing another new patent infringement suit this week, as Texas-based Droplets Inc. has filed a complaint in the Eastern District of Texas regarding violations of one of their patents. Droplets claims Apple infringes on its patent with its Apple website, iTunes, the movie trailer site and also its other web applications.

The patent held by Droplets seems to apply to such a wide range of Apple’s web-based properties because it’s fairly broad in scope; it describes a “system and method for delivering a graphical user interface of remote applications over a thin bandwidth connection.” So, in other words, it’s a way of presenting a web app stored on a server as a usable front-end for customers browsing from home.

Droplets isn’t just a patent holding company. Its customers include IBM, Borland and PricewaterhouseCoopers, as well as many other companies. Apple also isn’t the only company targeted, as Google, Facebook and Yahoo are also named. The patent in question, No. 6,687,745, was filed for in June 2000 and formally awarded to Droplets in 2004.

One PatentlyApple reader notes that a version of the Apple movie trailers site exists as early as 1999, however, and former NeXT/Apple engineer Marc J. Driftmeyer says that the methods described in the patent were “sold through WebObjects functionality back in 1996. They were based upon patents from AppKit/Foundation Kit long before that.” WebObjects is a Java web application server and web applications framework created by NeXT and subsequently acquired by Apple when it took over that company. These points could theoretically be used to argue against the validity of Droplets Inc.’s patents, at least in terms of their applicability to Apple products.

Apple seems barely able to go a week without incurring some new legal patent issue. WiLAN and Openwave have both targeted the company in the past few weeks, and Google and its hardware partners are wrapped up in multiple lawsuits involving Cupertino.

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