Apple is found guilty of infringing 3 patents, damages may be ‘substantial’

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In an interesting turn of events, it seems that it is Apple now that finds themselves infringing on patents. A federal jury that deliberated on the issue for four hours has found Apple guilty of infringing three patents held by MobileMedia Ideas, a patent-licensing firm owned by  MPEG-LA. Apple has actually contributed some of the patents licensed by MPEG-LA, which means that the company that will be seeking damages from Apple also collects royalties for them regarding other patents. What makes this even more interesting is that Sony and Nokia own at least 10 percent of MobileMedia, and have numerous patents held by them as well.

The patents involved include one covering how a phone rejects calls, one on how a phone manages different call states and another covering a mobile device with a camera that is capable of transmitting images to another. While I’m not aware of the specifics of these patents, they sound quite broad in scope. That is all of course depending on the implementation described. The three patents were also actually part of an original claim that included 14, when it was filed in 2010. In a Bloomberg interview, MobileMedia CEO believes that the damages that will be awarded in a later trial could be “substantial.”

According to TechCrunch, the details behind MobileMedia make it appear to be what people in the industry describe as a “patent troll.” So in the end we have a patent troll that is owned in part by Sony and Nokia, and has a parent company that collects royalties from Apple but will now be seeking potentially substantial damages from them. Hate Apple or not, if there’s any sign that the patent system needs fixing, it’s cases like these.

[via TechCrunch]

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9 comments

  1. Mike

    @Coyote: The lawyers, especially in large firms, always make out . . . . Have you seen large firm billing rates?

    I agree that a nice change to the patent laws potentially would be, use it or lose it–or, better, only be able to enforce your patent, after an initial grace period, against those who started sales after you started your own real and actual exploitation of the patent. This would seem to match what the U.S. Constitution intended: the advancement of the sciences (and rather than land-grabbing). Let’s do it. ;^)

  2. Coyote

    @Mike: Patents shouldn’t be considered open land that anybody can do what they want to. A patent would be more akin to selling property you already developed to a party that will use or improve it.

    And I agree even a company like IBM or *cough Apple should be held to these same standards, if you don’t use a patent you can’t own it. Patents should not be seen as a commodity to be traded on a whim. They should only belong to those that invented and will develop the patent or be sold at a reasonable price (sale price=R&D+time+modest profit) to those who will.

    I’m just guessing about the source of these but most patent firms gather them from bulk sales usually sold by creditors or banks to recoup the original owners debt. So no they don’t get much. But the lawyers, well they make out like bandits through all this.

  3. Mike

    @Coyote: And that is different from someone who just happens, by luck, to own a piece of property that a developer wants to buy, to fill out a mall development, how? Or from IBM (and other large, well-regarded companies) using patents it owns to force licenses on others, even though IBM does not practice any related invention? Just sayin’ . . . .

    And remember: the patent licensing firm had to buy its patents, the original inventors thereby getting something (albeit, likely small) when they otherwise might not have.

    I’m not saying that I like the current system. But it’s premised on the old-fashioned property land-grab system.

  4. Coyote

    “a patent-licensing firm”

    There is the problem, right there, the very nature of their business is pure scum, bottom feeding, double dealing theft. They didn’t produce the patent, they don’t use the patent, and they show no evidence that they ever will.

  5. Mike

    I always have an issue with this term “patent troll.” While, originally, those that fit the description were very distinct, now, the “big guys” do it as well–e.g. Apple patenting everything under the sun, as well as similar licensing enforcement by other big companies, bringing in loads of cash, whether the company holding the patent is practicing the technology or not. Oftentimes, the original owner of a patent can’t afford the massive costs to enforce and sue on a patent–what’s so wrong with the sale of the patent to a company that can, the original inventor making money from the sale?

    Having said that, I don’t know that I would object to a ban of lawsuits brought by any patent owner who is not exploiting the technology–but that would include the big guys as well, not just the licensing companies.

  6. Ashraf
    Mr. Boss

    While I do believe Apple is getting what it deserves, I disagree that MobileMedia is a patent troll. A patent troll is a company that holds patents for the purpose of profiting off them by licensing or suing others; the company doesn’t produce anything itself. True MobileMedia fits this description but you must keep in mind the people who own MobileMedia — Sony and Nokia — do produce their products. I think MobileMedia is better described as a patent holding company rather than a troll. A nuance difference, yes, but a difference nonetheless.

  7. Mike

    Actually, it all makes sense to me: while Apple uses this group to seek patent royalties, why can’t other companies using the service also seek royalties from Apple for Apple’s infringement? In essence, the company is serving as a “clearinghouse” of rights. And given the complexity of technology and patents, and the amount of tech. used in a smartphone, it is just as easy for Apple to be infringing the patent rights of others as it is for others to be infringing Apple.

    Apple is just receiving, here, what it likes to serve to others . . . .