updated 11:00 pm EST, Mon November 25, 2013
Inventor argued that iPhone equalled computer plus phone
An inventor named Richard L. Ditzik has discovered, thanks to a jury, that an iPhone isn't just a computer and a phone slapped together. The inventor, through his company NetAirus Technologies, has sued Apple (though strangely, no other smartphone makers) claiming in a just-decided case that the iPhone 4 violated a patent that described a method for computers to make phone calls through Wi-Fi and cellular networks. A jury, in an unusual majority vote, disagreed that Apple was in violation.
Ditzik's patent covered the description of a future device (not made or marketed by NetAirus) that combined computer functions and wireless communication over both cellular and Wi-Fi networks -- but Ditzik's method described a notebook computer that relied on a handset to make calls, rather than a fully-independent device such as today's smartphones. NetAirus brought the suit against Apple in mid-2010 as the original patent was being re-certified, and the case was the first test of its validity.
The jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, Bloomberg reports, but after attorneys on both sides agreed to allow a majority vote decide the case, Apple's iPhone 4 was judged not to have infringed on Ditzik's patent. The split decision, however, gives NetAirus potential grounds to appeal.
The case is separate from other lawsuits filed by NetAirus over different models of the iPhone and iPad, but the first defeat will weaken the chance of success in the other cases. One of the jurors told Bloomberg that he had voted in favor of NetAirus on two of the four questions before the jury, saying there was "an aspect to the case that Apple was this giant crushing the little guy." Apple had argued that the claims in the patent didn't describe a modern smartphone, with Ditzik adding claims in the recertification that weren't in the original, such as the handset being used as a personal digital assistant.
The NetAirus patent