updated 12:25 pm EST, Thu February 9, 2012
SmartData claims Apple violates modular PC idea
Apple is facing a rare instance of foreign patent trolling this week after a discovery that Swiss firm SmartData has sued it over a lone patent. The accusation, quietly filed earlier in the week in Apple's home court district in San Jose, alleged that the Apple TV, the iPhone, and the iOS Remote app violated a patent for a "modular computer." Using Remote on the iPhone to control content on the Apple TV copied the technology, the plaintiff argued.
In opposition to most such lawsuits, SmartData purportedly talked with Apple well before taking legal action. The company claimed to have been talking since July 2004, when secret work may have only just started on the iPhone and the patent was still years away from being granted. Both sides were said in talks until June 2006, when Apple sent one more message inviting "constructive dialog" and promptly went silent, even after being told of the granted patent.
SmartData's claim is somewhat tenuous. Its patent does cover some basic concepts, but it repeatedly makes references to the phone being the source of Internet content, not the in-between hub. The closest Apple gets to this is AirPlay, which isn't mentioned at all in the lawsuit.
The firm itself, despite talk of being a "global supplier," has no actual evidence of having any clients. Its news page revolves solely around milestones relating to the patents, and its last update was from May 2008, when it was trying to license the patents under the "Zukero" name. Such silence implies few voluntary takers.
In filing the lawsuit, SmartData claims that the patent violation is "willful" and, while asking for a device ban, is direct in stating its real goal of collecting a royalty on the affected hardware.
Apple hasn't commented on the lawsuit and typically doesn't. Most such lawsuits are settled quietly out of court or involve verdicts small enough that they would be non-factors in the company's finances even if Apple lost.