updated 10:15 pm EST, Thu December 18, 2008
Apple TV infringement suit
In Apple's latest legal battle, a wireless-entertainment company has sued the computer-maker for patent infringement, according to InformationWeek. EZ4Media submitted the filings to a Louisiana court, claiming that Apple TV, Airport Express, and even Mac computers infringe on a number of its patents. The company had originally purchased the patents from Universal Electronics (UEI) in March and alleges that three UEI employees left to work for Apple approximately a year before the launch of Apple TV.
The filing suggests that each employee switched companies within 30 days of one another in the second half of 2005, while Apple's product was released in the summer of 2006. "Each of these employees had access to UEI's confidential and proprietary information," the complaint reads.
In contrast with many other patent lawsuits, EZ4Media produces products that integrate the patented technology. Many patent suits are filed by non-practicing entities (NPEs) that do not produce or intend to produce any goods relating to the patented technology. Damages awarded to actual manufacturers can potentially hold more value than NPE settlements, including additional compensation for lost profits.
Apple is not the only target of EZ4Media's lawyers, with several other filings submitted in June against Logitech, Netgear, D-Link, Samsung, Pioneer, Yamaha and D&M holdings which represents a number of audio brands such as Denon, Boston Acoustics, McIntosh and Marantz.
The case presents similar issues to the problems Apple is having with IBM over the hiring of Mark Papermaster. IBM has vigorously pursued action against the former employee for breaking a non-competition agreement that would have barred him from working with competitors for a full year after his employment ends. The company is presumably worried that he could apply IBM's private and proprietary information to Apple devices.
Apple is currently involved in several other patent infringement suits relating to a variety of products, including the iPod and iPhone. A case last year ended with the computer-maker providing a $10 million settlement to Burst.com in a conflict related to DVR technology.
One of the former UEI employees, Nick Kalayjian, now works for Tesla Motors. He claims to not have been involved with the Apple TV project, but declined to provide more details about his work with the Cupertino-based company. The EZ4Media case is just in the beginning stage and could lead to a lengthy battle if a settlement is not easily reached.