Under the gavel: Apple countersues Kodak

As Macworld Senior Associate Editor Dan Moren is otherwise occupied, it falls to me to bring you the latest installment of our occasional “Under the Gavel” series, wherein we track the continuing efforts of one Cupertino company to sue, countersue, and avoid being sued. March and April have been a couple of pretty interesting months for Apple in the legal world, what with suing HTC, being accused of practicing “legal alchemy," and sales injunction after sales injunction. But the latest court-side stories focus on Apple's battle with Kodak and one woman's frustration with the company's policy on iPhone liquid sensors.

Say cheese patent infringement!

We’ll start with Apple on the offensive: on Monday, the company filed a lawsuit against Kodak in addition to petitioning the ITC for a ban on the camera company’s infringing products. This move is in response to Kodak’s lawsuit against Apple and RIM this past January, accusing the two of violating a patent on image-preview technology.

Apple’s suit claims that Kodak is in fact infringing upon several of its patents. According to Electronista, the camera company has been accused of copying image processing, energy management, and memory design technology; Apple cites the C, M, and Z series EasyShares and its Zi8 camcorder as examples. The complaint with the ITC, also filed Monday, seeks to ban the sale of these and any other infringing devices as a result.

It might seem silly, but this battle of lawsuits will most likely end up with the two companies at the negotiating table, as this move allows Apple to claim that it too has an equal complaint. Hopefully the two will actually sort things out instead of just using their legal teams to yell at each other.

Water world

In other news, if one San Francisco resident gets her way, those pesky liquid sensors inside your iPhone may be legitimate cause for a lawsuit. As reported by InformationWeek, Charlene Gallion last week filed a lawsuit against Apple claiming that the liquid contact indicators (which you can find by shining a light inside the headphone jack and dock connector—if they’re pink, they’ve been triggered) can produce inaccurate results and, as such, cannot be used to determine whether or not a device should be covered under AppleCare.

The story is this: last year, Gallion’s first iPhone mysteriously stopped functioning. When she brought it into an Apple Store, Gallion was told that her phone contained liquid damage and was not eligible for replacement by AppleCare. While she was certain there had been no contact between her phone and any liquid, Gallion reluctantly agreed to trade in her dead device and purchase a new iPhone at a discount. Fast forward six months, and Gallion was back in the Apple Store with the same problem.

Her official complaint:

As a result of Apple's improper application of the Liquid-Damage Exclusion, Apple sells [devices] with the intent to exclude them from the warranty coverage Apple promises consumers it will provide—even when consumers pay extra for Extended Warranty coverage—simply because their Liquid Submersion Indicator has been triggered, without any attempt by Apple to verify whether the Class Devices actually have been damaged as a result of submersion or immersion in liquid.

Now, it’s true that Gallion could have just been a little too careless in the kitchen or the bathroom, but despite Apple’s claims that the sensors “are designed not to be triggered by humidity and temperature changes that are within the product's environmental requirements,” design doesn't always translate into a perfect implementation every single time. I wouldn't be too surprised if the sensor occasionally triggered false positives.

All the same, iPhone and iPod Touch repairs are tricky beasts. While Mac laptops also have liquid sensors, Apple technicians have the option of taking them apart to find out if the spill caused the problem. With an iPhone, if it doesn’t power up and the liquid sensors are triggered, the technician has few—if any—alternative options to see if the phone was damaged by liquid or not. Whether this will lead to any kind of study regarding false positives or a revamp of the sensors—that’s up in the air right now.

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