Although many will have you believe that Apple is a caring company on the cutting edge of cool, there’s a truly dark side that Mac nuts like us can’t deny. Perhaps we might be laughing and mocking the overweight four-eyed losers that call themselves PC people, but it’s time to face the reality that Apple is truly no different from Microsoft or any large tech giant that infringes on patents in order to sell its products.
The latest in this legal saga revolves around a small company called Opti Incorporated. The company filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple in January of 2007 and the case has been dragging on over the course of what is now almost two and a half years. The patent in question has to do with “predictive snooping,” which describes a way for a Central Processing Unit (CPU) to transfer data among the CPU, memory, and other devices within the computer more efficiently. The patent was given to Opti Incorporated back in June of 2002, so it’s not like Apple was a month behind the times and simply “wasn’t aware” of it (which would have been a lame excuse considering the tech giant’s legal assets).
The legal saga with Opti Incorporated is now over, with Apple being found guilty of violating on the patent and ordered to pay $19 million. A jury found that Apple had “willfully” infringed upon the patent. Apple had said it used a similar technology and argued in court that the patent should be declared invalid (and thus Apple would not have to pay anything). For a company that has $30 billion in assets, this lawsuit is truly a drop in the bucket, but the constant lawsuits are beginning to get tiresome for shareholders and fans of the firm alike.
The big news coming for Apple stems from a company called Elan Microelectronics, which claims that two of its patents involving multi-touch technology have been infringed upon. Elan is widely known in the electronics industry for keypads found in PCs and even won a court injunction against Synaptics for infringement of one of the same patents. Given that court history, it seems that Elan Microelectronics might just have a case against Apple and could potentially prevent the company from selling the MacBook, iPhone, and even iPod Touch until all of the legal issues are resolved. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? Of course not. Elan and Apple had been in licensing talks for over two years before Elan “decided we had to take action,” according to Dennis Liu, an company spokesperson.
Although it is not known at this time what penalties or action Elan is seeking to redeem from Apple, this has the potential to be the largest patent infringement lawsuit Apple has ever had to deal with. According to the New York Times, Elan should be quite confident in its lawsuit against Apple. This comes at a good time, as Elan has been struggling in the massive downturn in the tech industry. Coincidence? Absolutely not.
It’s almost give and take whether you want to hate Apple for infringing on all of these patents, trying to get out of paying the penalties through a long and drawn-out legal process, and then paying the fee “if they have to” by court decree. At the same time, it’s easy to paint Apple as the victim in the Elan Microeletronics case because the companies were negotiating over the rights. As soon as the economy tanked (and Apple announced record profits), Elan suddenly pulled out of the negotiations and headed directly for court, where the company can expect a settlement.
Time will tell if Apple can beef up its legal arm to start avoiding problems rather than work to clean up messes of years past. It would make sense for the company to take better direction in terms of patent agreements with technology partners, which would increase profitability for shareholders. We shall see if Apple will learn its lesson or simply repeat its mistakes.