Apple Appeals $625m Patent Fine

Apple is filing an emergency motion to avoid a massive fine over its use of ‘stream’ interfaces in its operating systems and mobile devices

Apple faces a $625.5million (£395m) judgment unless it can win a legal argument against Mirror Worlds LLC, which sued the company in 2008 for alleged patent infringement. Mirror Worlds won its verdict against Apple on 1 October.

According to Bloomberg, Apple’s emergency motion accuses Mirror Worlds of “triple dipping” if it wins $208.5m for each of the three patents allegedly in dispute. Attorneys for both Apple and Mirror Worlds plan to submit their respective arguments concerning the monetary judgment, with Apple arguing that two of the patents have “outstanding issues” that make them inapplicable.

‘Stream’ interface in question

For its part, the original lawsuit accuses Apple’s Mac OS X, mobile devices, and personal computers of violating Mirror Worlds’ technology for organising data items such as documents in a “stream”. The patents themselves were first filed in 1999 by a Yale computer science professor, David Gelernter, who founded Mirror Worlds. Apple’s Spotlight, Time Machine and Cover Flow applications – which allow the user to flip through onscreen tiles and documents – are the products apparently at issue.

Bloomberg paraphrases the closing arguments of Apple’s chief counsel, Jeffrey Randall, as saying the Mirror Worlds patents had already been sold twice, for a combined total of around $5m, and weren’t worth more.

The case is Mirror Worlds LLC v. Apple Inc., 08cv88, US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas (Tyler). The US District Judge hearing the arguments is Leonard Davis, who also presided over i4i’s recent patent-infringement case against Microsoft.

Patent-infringement suits against larger companies have a history of being won in that part of the Texas court system. In 2006, Microsoft and Nintendo were ordered to pay $21m to Anascape, a small IT outfit, for allegedly violating a patent related to game controllers. In July 2009, another tiny company, Tsera, sued Microsoft, Apple, and 21 other technology companies over a touch-screen patent.

Motorola, Apple, Oracle under attack

While patent-infringement cases between large and small companies frequently make the news, much of the tech industry’s attention lately has focused on battles between the titans. Microsoft filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Motorola on 1 October, joining Apple and Oracle in legal attacks against Google’s Android operating system.

Microsoft has claimed that Motorola’s Android smartphones violate nine patents related to features such as synchronising email and contacts. The lawsuit mirrors a March one submitted by Apple against HTC, accusing the manufacturer of violating some 20 patents related to the iPhone’s interface, architecture and hardware.