Apple, HTC, Microsoft, Others Face E-Mail Patent Lawsuit

NTP, known for its years-long legal tussle with BlackBerry-maker RIM, is now after Apple, HTC, LG Electronics, Microsoft and Motorola, for what it says are infringements of patents related to mobile e-mail.

NTP is now the latest smartphone-arena company to file a patent-related lawsuit.

On July 8, NTP filed patent lawsuits against six of the industry's biggest players - Apple, HTC, LG Electronics, Microsoft and Motorola - in a United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The lawsuits accuse the manufacturers of infringing on eight patents related to "the delivery of electronic mail over wireless communications systems."

In a July 9 statement on the suits, NTP describes its founder, Tom Campana, as being the inventor of wireless e-mail.

"Use of NTP's intellectual property without a license is just plain unfair to NTP and its licensees," Donald E. Stout, NTP's co-founder, said in the statement. "Unfortunately, litigation is our only means of ensuring the inventor of the fundamental technology on which wireless e-mail is based, Tom Campana, and NTP shareholders are recognized, and are fairly and reasonably compensated for their innovative work and investment. We took the necessary action to protect our intellectual property."

NTP was previously involved in a years-long legal struggle with Research In Motion. In 2001, it sued the BlackBerry maker for what it said were infringements on nine of its patents for wireless e-mail. After years of legal maneuverings, in 2006, RIM agreed to make a one-time payment of $612.5 million to NTP, in exchange for being able to continue offering its e-mail services.

According to NTP, following its litigation with RIM, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) began to re-examine some NTP patents. In its July 9 statement, NTP said it had additionally filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals, asking that the USPTO's remaining rejections of NTP patent claims - several claims under investigation were earlier found to be valid - be overturned.

"The filing of suit today is necessary to ensure that those companies who are infringing NTP's patents will be required to pay a licensing fee," said Stout. "In view of the USPTO Board's ruling, the debate over whether Mr. Campana was an originator in the field of wireless e-mail is over. No patents in U.S. history have received as much scrutiny as NTP's patents. We are delighted that the USPTO Board has recognized the groundbreaking innovation of Mr. Campana by confirming 67 of NTP's patent claims. We are also confident that the USPTO's rejections, which are on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, will be overturned."

NTP currently has licensing agreements with Good Technology, Nokia and Visto, in addition to Research In Motion.

For Apple, the NTP suit is likely just one more matter to keep its legal team busy. On March 2, Apple sued smartphone rival HTC over issues of patent infringement, and on May 12, HTC sued back, likewise claiming that Apple infringed on some its patent. Apple has similarly been trading legal documents with Nokia, which on Oct. 22, 2009, filed a suit against Apple, alleging that it violated 10 Nokia patents. Apple soon sued back, accusing Nokia of violating 13 Apple-owned patents. The two have since gone back and forth again, and no resolution is expected in the near-term. On March 12, Reuters reported that Apple and Nokia have requested that trials for their respective suits be heard in mid-2012.

In March, Taiwan-based Elan Microelectronics also filed a complaint against Apple, this one with the U.S. International Trade Commission, alleging that the Apple iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, MacBook and Magic Mouse infringe on an Elan patent for multitouch technology.

Additionally, since its June 4 launch of the iPhone 4, Apple has had still two more suits filed against it. The first, in a District Court in San Francisco, accuses Apple of perpetuating fraud by selling a device it allegedly knew to have antenna issues. The second, filed in a District Court in Maryland, ropes in AT&T as well, and accuses the two of a number of wrongdoings, including deceptive trade practices, intentional misrepresentation and fraud by concealment.

None of the companies named in the recent NTP filing has released an official response to the allegations.