Microsoft and Apple 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 $21 million.
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 iPhone. 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 Columbia.
Microsoft is already embroiled in slightly more serious patent-infringement action. TomTom 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.