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Apple Lawsuit Express: Tsera Sues Apple + 19 for Touchscreen Patent Violation

The Apple Lawsuit Express has picked up another passenger, as a company called Tsera has sued Apple and 19 other companies for patent infringement relating to the iPod's touchscreen controls. The company claims willful infringement, particularly on the part of Apple, of a patent the company says governs the way iPods and other digital media devices on the market are controlled.

The lawsuit was filed in the patent litigation-friendly Eastern District of Texas, in Marshall, Texas, and it names Apple, Microsoft, Bang + Olufsen, LG, and 16 other tech companies for willful violation of its patent.

According to The Telegraph, Tsera singled out Apple in its complaint for , "wilful, wanton and deliberate" abuse of the patent, about which it knew as early as September of 2004, which would presumably be when Tsera began asking Apple to license the patent.

Tsera has asked the court to award triple damages from Apple, while it seeks ordinary damages from the other defendants, as well as compulsory licensing for the future. The company claims that the Zune, LG's Chocolate phone, Apple's iPod, and other shipping devices all trod upon its patent.

Filed in 1999 and granted in 2003, the patent, "Methods and apparatus for controlling a portable electronic device using a touchpad," describes a method, "for controlling a portable electronic device, such as an MP3 player; portable radio, voice recorder, or portable CD player."

The abstract continues, "A touchpad is mounted on the housing of the device, and a user enters commands by tracing patterns with his finger on a surface of the touchpad. No immediate visual feedback is provided as a command pattern is traced, and the user does not need to view the device to enter commands."

Apple has been the subject of many and sundry patent lawsuits in recent years -- some frivolous, some seemingly legit -- and this one may fall under the legit category. The patent, as described, does appear to describe, at least in part, the way Apple's iPod and other devices work.

We are not patent attorneys, however, and these cases are often convoluted and drawn out. We'll be watching this case as we watch all of the lawsuits that make up the Apple Lawsuit Express.

3 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

MOSiX Man said:

I’m surprised this lawsuit has even gotten into the court. It sounds completely baseless, based on the facts as they are presented here. Here’s why:

1) Based on the basic description of the patent, provided in the article, it doesn’t sound like it really applies to any device which provides ‘immediate visual feedback’, as the patent specifically states, when the touch-sensitive controls are used. That includes iPods and (I would guess) pretty much any digital music player that includes a control mechanism that isn’t limited to just buttons.

2) The same description doesn’t really describe a method of control that matches the iPod, Zune, etc. It refers to patterns being traced on the touchpad. I’m not familiar with any iPod or other music player that requires that patterns be traced onto a touchpad.

3) The iPod (Classic and similar earlier models) doesn’t even have a ‘touchpad’, per se. It has a touch-sensitive virtual scroll wheel. If a touch surface is (for lack of a better term) doughnut-shaped, and the touch-related commands accepts include only ‘up or down’, that hardly constitutes tracing a patten or anything else that one would regularly do with a touchpad. The virtual scroll wheel is simply an evolutionary advance on the original, mechanical scroll wheel, with the same functions, but no moving parts.

4) If the company has any real claim to a patent for tracing patterns onto a touchpad, then why aren’t they suing Apple and others for their use of multi-touch trackpad commands? That seems a lot more similar to what is described in the patent, than the iPod’s interface. Besides, how long has the trackpad actually been around on laptop computers? Isn’t a trackpad pretty much always used by ‘tracing patterns’ onto it, to achieve some result? If anything, it sounds like Tsera should never have been granted this patent, since the only thing even vaguely original about how they describe it, is that it applies to handheld devices, rather than full-sized computers.

5) Apple actually holds a patent (U.S. Patent 7,348,967), for the touch-sensitive iPod scroll wheel. This patent was filed in August 2005 and granted in March 2008, so it doesn’t pre-date Tsera’s patent, but if Apple holds a legal patent for the technology that they are using, then wouldn’t that patent have to be thrown out before Apple could be sued for using said technology?

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Doug Petrosky said:

I’m confused! Wouldn’t say drawing letters on a touch screen and having that interpreted as a letter or a shape be covered by this?

And if so, didn’t the Newton allow for that? As well as gestures to delete, insert, uppercase, transpose, etc? Doesn’t that prior art nullify this? Can the fact that the newton always showed the pen input make the difference here?

Hell for that matter does a trackpad on a laptop do the same thing just with very limited commands of up, down, left, right? Regardless this seems far general to holdup.

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iJack said:

Iím surprised this lawsuit has even gotten into the court. It sounds completely baseless, based on the facts as they are presented here.

The article doesn’t say the case was in court.  It says, ”..a lawsuit was filed.”

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