Apple Gets New Patents and Lawsuit on Infringement

By Peter Bernstein November 13, 2012

When it comes to Apple and the subject of intellectual property, it seems like hardly a day passes where there is not some kind of news. Today, in fact, it’s not just one item that stands out, but four. In no particular order, they are:

  • The global settlement with HTC on iPhone related issues
  • Patent granted for channel scanning logic
  • Patent granted for location-based categorical services information
  • Infringement suit by NovelPoint over a method and apparatus for an automatic vehicle location, collision notification and synthetic voice

Is HTC a Harbinger of Settlements to Come?

It was big news that Apple over this past weekend settled a series of suits and counter-suits with Taiwanese smartphone manufacturer HTC, whose fortunes have flagged (estimated to have dropped from roughly 11 percent market share last year to just under 5 percent currently) as Samsung surges to the head of the Android pack. In fact, it was recently revealed that Samsung actually passed Apple in total phone shipments in the last quarter with 18 million units sold versus 16 million iPhones, but is likely to drop back into second place as iPhone5 sales ramp up.

The settlement includes a 10-year licensing deal between the two parties, but little else is known, except that the agreement also includes the dismissal of all pending litigation between the two.  

The question industry observers have pondered is whether this signifies a new chapter, or at least a trend, in the multi-billion dollar IP battles raging around the world between numerous parties, including not just Apple against everyone else, but HTC, Samsung, Microsoft, Google and others.

It’s nasty out there, and while deciding to compete in the market rather than in court or in front of regulators is a welcomed development, reality seems to be that Apple basically got rid of the low hanging fruit so it could concentrate on more important players. 

In short, don’t look for a major sea-change on the IP litigation front, as this is likely to have been the exception and not the rule.

Patent 8,310,472: new touch screen capabilities

The patent in the headline relates to sensor panels used as input devices for computing systems. More specifically, it has to do with using logic circuitry to autonomously detect and process events such as touching directly or in proximity of an object on a sensor panel. As the patent describes this, in one embodiment: “Channel scan logic carries out many of the functions that a processor would normally undertake, including generating timing sequences and obtaining result data; comparing scan result data against a threshold value (e.g., in an auto-scan mode); generating row count; selecting one or more scanning frequency bands; power management control; and performing an auto-scan routine in a low power mode.” 

In lay terms, the patent covers technology to allow multiple objects to be touched and activated and as a means for less power to be consumed in processing requests. Given Apple’s reliance on all things relating to touching, while a complicated patent to digest it is important.

Patent 8,311,526: categorical information from a network resource on location-based services   

A bit of irony is involved here, since one of the listed inventors is Scott Forstall, the now former Apple VP whose departure has set off a minor ruckus amongst Apple faithful. 

The patent involves: “A selection of a category of interest and location information is used to determine categorical information that is provided to a device. In some implementations, the device includes a touch-sensitive display and presents the categorical information on a map using an indicator. In some implementations, the categorical information can be shared and/or updated by others.”

There are over 30 claims here that a worth a look. According to the patent, the problem being addressed is that current means for easily accessing categorical information, “Require the user to actively search a resource, can be time-consuming, can provide outdated information, and can produce a large amount of information that may be of little interest to the user.”

This patent when embodied in product will resolve these challenges. This one is interesting because of its scope. I have no claim on being an intellectual property expert, including not possessing a law degree, but given the ground covered here, this looks like it could become an IP hotspot in the future. Certainly one to keep an eye on as integration of location-based information drives the next generation of personalized apps.

Infringement suit shows the waters remain shark infested

Last and certainly not least, Texas-based NovelPoint Tracking (NPT) filed a lawsuit in the United States Eastern District Court against Apple claiming that the iPhone 4S and other iDevices are infringing on their patent 6,442,485. This patent as noted above has to do with a: “Method and Apparatus for an Automatic Vehicle Location, Collision Notification, and Synthetic Voice.” An explanation of this on says this is a case with an interesting legal “twist.”

They say, “Apple isn't just being sued for their own iOS location-based services, but also for facilitating third-party location based services on their iDevices.” Obviously the legal system is going to have to sort this one out, but the accusation of abetting the activities of others is going to wake up a lot of industry IP lawyers. This may not be a consequential capability since there certainly are several services that have no relation to Apple, like OnStar, that already provide what seems to be described in the patent. And, again I must emphasize my total lack of legal expertise in this area.

However, guilty by affiliation is something that will give ecosystem partners pause which is why this one also bears watching.

Edited by Braden Becker
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