updated 08:10 pm EST, Mon February 19, 2007
Another iPhone lawsuit?
Apple's much anticipated all-in-one cell phone may be facing more than just an iPhone-brand lawsuit by Cisco. The Cupertino-based iPod-maker may face a patent lawsuit over its forthcoming iPhone from a UK-based company that develops and markets capacitive sensor chips for touch screen applications based on its patented charge-transfer (QT) capacitive sensing technology. Southampton-based touch sensor specialist Quantum Research said that based on current public demonstrations and descriptions, the consumer device appears to use patented Quantum technology in its consumer-oriented iPhone device. Some of that touch technology for human interfaces has already been licensed to other cell phone manufacturers.
"We will be looking very carefully at the iPhone," company representatives warned Apple, according to a report by Electronic Weekly. The company, which supplies chips to Apple, already has one lawsuit proceeding against Apple for patent infringement, and says it's prepared to bring another, if finds Apple's device infringes on its patent.
Earlier this year, Quantum Research filed a lawsuit against Apple over the capacitive touch-sensing technology used in the Cupertino-based company's iPod clickwheels. Quantum says it is in negotiations with Apple over the response to the initial lawsuit on the iPod nano clickwheel. Apple is also being accused of stealing the iPhone concept/idea from Korean manufacturer LG Electronics, after it unveiled its Prada prototype last September.
"The description of the iPhone suggests it uses a rear-surface touch screen, and has proximity sensing which can tell if it is held to the ear. That's a QR capability," Duncan Bryan, licensing director at Quantum Research (QR), told the publication.
The report indicates that if Apple is using charge transfer technology, which QR claims to have patented, in its iPhone, then Apple may be infringing the firm's patent. EW reports that charge transfer capacitive sensing was invented by QR's founder and CEO Hal Philipp and the company has licensed it to Motorola, which uses it in its mobile phone keypads. The company also had other clients who have licensed its patented technology and says it negotiating with several others.
The company claims that Apple is already using charge transfer technology in the wheel control of some of its iPods, which is the focus of the company's previous iPod clickwheel lawsuit. Leading up to the iPhone launch, Apple filed hundreds of patent applications in an effort to protect its intellectual property. The report indicates that Apple has tried, and failed, to patent wheel-based sensors, while manufacturers rapidly integrate capacitive sensing into their products.
There are other techniques for capacitive touch sensing, but that those technologies are not optimal for consumer device exposed to variety of weather conditions, the publication reports. Technologies such as relaxation oscillator technology or current injection can also be used for the same functionality, the report claims, but they inherently unstable across humidity and temperature and are susceptible to EMC.