Microsoft and Apple, along with a handful of other tech companies, find themselves strange bedfellows after being sued by a small company over a touch-screen patent. The lawsuit, originally filed on July 15 in Texas Eastern District Court, alleges that Apple's iPod, Microsoft's Zune and other media-playing devices all use touch-screen technology invented by Tsera.
are finding themselves the target of a small technology company named Tsera,
which is alleging that both the Zune and iPod, along with several other
devices, violate its touch-screen patent.
Nor are they the only companies in the cross-hairs; Tsera is seeking damages
from 23 tech entities in total, including Bang & Olufsen, LG Electronics,
Philips Electronics North America and Mach Speed Technologies. None of the
defendants has issued a statement on the matter.
The lawsuit, originally filed on July 15 in Texas Eastern District Court,
alleges that Microsoft's Zune, along with Apple's iPod and a host of other
mass-market media players, violate a touch-screen patent filed by Tsera's
representatives in October 2003.
LG's Chocolate cell phone, which can store digital music files, and Philips'
GoFear MP3 player are other devices alleged to violate the patent.
Titled "Methods and apparatus for controlling a portable electronic
device using a touchpad," the patent (number 6639584) details a touchpad
mounted in the housing of a media-playing device, which then allows users to input
commands by "tracing patterns with his finger." The user's finger
motions are matched by a microcontroller within the device to a number of
preset patterns, which in turn translate into a function or command.
The Texas court system has
been the setting for a number of patent lawsuits launched by small companies
against corporations such as Apple. In 2007, a Canadian company named Wi-LAN
launched a patent-infringement suit against Apple, Dell, Sony and a host of
others. In 2006, Anascape sued Microsoft and Nintendo for allegedly violating
its patents over game controllers, and won the first judgment to the tune of
That same year, Microsoft was ordered to pay $115 million to z4 Technology, and
Apple has also fought patent-infringement cases in the state related to the
Large IT companies have a history of losing
patent-infringement cases in Texas, possibly leading to an uptick in lawsuits
filed there: Of the 3,222 civil cases submitted in Eastern Texas U.S. District
Court in 2007, 409 of them dealt with copyright, patent or trademark claims-compared
with 768 that year in all of New York state, and 53 in the District of
Microsoft is already embroiled in slightly more serious patent-infringement
filed suit against the company on March 16, alleging that Microsoft's Streets
and Trips program violates four TomTom patents
. TomTom's move was
effectively a countersuit against Microsoft, which had sued the navigation-IT
company in February for patent infringement.
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with the correct patent number.