updated 06:45 pm EDT, Fri April 29, 2011
Full ITC ruling expected in August
Taiwan's Elan Microelectronics has lost a ruling with the U.S. International Trade Commission revolving around a patent dispute with Apple. Judge Paul Luckern of the U.S. trade panel found in favor of Apple against Elan's lawsuit over multi-touch technology patents, specifically one that describes a means of detecting the presence of two or more fingers on a touch-sensitive panel. The judge found in his initial decision that there had been no violation of the Elan patent.
Elan originally filed the lawsuit just over two years ago, accusing Apple of violating two of its multi-touch patents by way of the iPhone, iPod Touch, MacBook and later the iPad. Apple itself is pursuing a not-dissimilar suit against HTC for violating its own patents, leading some to speculate that Apple would have preferred to settle or dismiss the Elan lawsuit as quickly as possible, as it undermines Apple's claims of proprietary multi-touch technology.
The decision comes as something of a surprise; outside observers had guessed that Apple would go with some kind of settlement solution, worth perhaps as much as $70 million to Elan. It also had reasons for believing a victory against Apple was likely; Elan had had its patent backed by a victory in 2008 against Synaptics. In March of last year the case moved to the U.S. International Trade Commission for investigation.
Today's ruling is not the last word in the matter, but makes a reversal of fortune much less likely. Elan had originally asked for all offending Apple products to be blocked from sale in the U.S. The full International Trade Commission is expected to rule on whether to accept or reject the administrative law judge's decision in August.