Apple, others sued for touchpad patent infringement
By Dan Moren
It’s been a while since we’ve gone under the gavel, so we bring you back with this installment of yet another patent infringment dispute. A company named Tsera, LLC has filed a suit in Texas Eastern District Court alleging that more than 20 companies, among them Microsoft, Philips, LG, and, naturally, Apple, have violated Tsera’s patent for touch-sensitive interfaces.
Patent 6,639,584, granted in 2003, covers “Methods and apparatus for controlling a portable electronic device using a touchpad.” The patent describes ways to use finger gestures to operate a device, such as an MP3 player, in order to help reduce the need for buttons, enhance usability, and cut manufacturing costs. On the face of it, sure, that would seem pretty damning for Apple, especially as Tsera claims that Cupertino has been aware of the patent since 2004 and has been blatantly ignoring it.
On the other hand, the fact that this suit was filed in Texas and that you’ve never heard of Tsera, LLC should raise some red flags. Texas courts are notorious for being friendly to plaintiffs in patent infringement suits, and I couldn’t turn up hide nor hair of Tsera. Nor will you find Tsera mentioned in the filed patent, which is registered under the name of inventor Chuang Li of Saratoga, California.
Despite the many defendants named in the suit, Apple is particularly in the crosshairs—gee, wonder why?—and Tsera is seeking triple damages from the company, as well as royalties from all further use of touchpad technology by the defendants.
Given that Apple’s iPods have been using touch-sensitive technology in some form or another since the second-generation iPod, one wonders why Tsera waited so long to file its suit. And while I’m about as far from a lawyer as you can get without actually being Mark-Paul Gosselar, I’d guess that this will follow a couple steps: 1) Apple’s lawyers (and those of the company’s co-defendants) will try to get the case dismissed via whatever means they can; 2) if that fails, the defendants will try to settle out of court—after all, nothing ends patent litigation like big sacks of unmarked non-sequential bills in small denominations.
Then again, maybe I’m wrong, and this will become the trial of the century, the 12 Angry Men of our times, taught in history class alongside the Scopes Monkey Trial. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say “probably not.”