Apple patent and trademark skirmishes through the years

Its cases against phone maker HTC and clone maker Psystar are hardly the only times that Apple has used the law to try to get its way.

Nexus One Android
The Nexus One is at the center of Apple's ongoing suit against HTC for patent infringement. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Sometimes it doesn't take more than a cease-and-desist letter, or some good backroom negotiating skills, for Apple to get what it wants.

The use of the term "pod" was one such case. Getting the trademark on the name "iPhone" was another. But plenty of times Apple turned to lawyers and mounds of paperwork to defend its intellectual property, or more often, defend itself.

The most recent legal wrangling Apple has engaged in willingly is the high-profile suit against HTC , maker of smartphones like the Eris and Nexus One. It's assumed by many to be a thinly veiled shot at Google, which makes the Android operating system that runs on those phones. When Apple filed the legal complaint earlier this month, CEO Steve Jobs was quoted as saying, "We can sit by and watch competitors steal our patented inventions, or we can do something about it. We've decided to do something about it. We think competition is healthy, but competitors should create their own original technology, not steal ours."

That, of course, goes both ways. In the past three years, Apple has been on the receiving end of may patent suits related to almost every aspect of its business: the iPhone, Apple TV, iPhone apps, employees, accessories, and the Mac itself. Here's a look back at some of Apple's more interesting intellectual property-related legal dustups.

January 2010 -- Kodak v. Apple
Earlier this year Kodak targeted Apple's iPhone along with competitor RIM's BlackBerry. The photo company accused both of illegally using a digital imaging patent it owns to preview images. But Kodak took its claims against Apple a few steps further, filing two more suits: One accuses Apple of violating two patents related to image preview and the ability to process images of different resolutions.The second claims infringement by Apple in a process by which one computer program can call on another to carry out certain functions. The first suit relates specifically to the iPhone, while the second is being targeted against any Apple product using that specific process.

October 2009 -- Nokia v. Apple
Nokia sued Apple over 10 patents the Finnish phone maker says it owns related to wireless handsets. The largest handset maker in the world took legal action when negotiations failed and Apple refused to pay to license any of the patents. Nokia has already reached licensing agreement on the patents in question with 40 other companies, including "most of the major device makers," according to Nokia. Apple returned the favor shortly after, countersuing Nokia over 13 patents it owns including mobile technologies related to real-time signal processing methods, list scrolling and document translation, scaling, and rotation on a touch-screen display.

May 2009 -- Tune Hunter v. everyone
Apple was named along with several other companies in Tune Hunter's patent infringement dispute with popular iPhone app Shazam. Shazam "listens" to songs and identifies them, and is available on a variety of mobile and Web platforms. Tune Hunter found Shazam's methods too close to its own patent for "a music identification/purchasing system," and sued almost every company tangentially related to Shazam, including Apple, AT&T, Samsung, Amazon.com, Napster, Motorola, Gracenote, Verizon Wireless, LG Electronics, and Pantech Wireless.

December 2008 -- EZ4Media v. Apple
It might be just a "hobby" for Apple, but the Apple TV was also lawsuit fodder. Set-top box maker EZ4Media claimed that Apple TV, AirPort Express, and Macintosh computers infringe on patents owned by the Illinois-based company. The patents were obtained by EZ4Media from Universal Electronics. EZ4Media filed the lawsuit because it found it very curious that the Apple TV was introduced a little over a year after Apple's hiring of three former Universal Electronics employees that had had access to inside information about the workings of Universal Electronics' set-top technology.

July 2008 -- Apple v. Psystar
You'd have to have been blind in both eyes not to have seen this one coming. Though Apple waited three months after Florida-based Psystar began selling its own non-Mac computers with Mac OS X installed, it was obvious to most industry observers Apple wasn't going to let this one slide. Apple eventually pounced, accusing Psystar of breaking Apple's Mac OS X user license agreement, which allows the software to be installed only on Apple-branded machinery, along with copyright infringement, induced copyright infringement, and trademark infringement.
Apple prevailed in the end . A judge ruled that Psystar violated Apple's exclusive reproduction right, distribution right, and right to create derivative works, and ordered the company to immediately stop selling its Mac clones. Psystar also agreed to pay Apple $2.65 million in damages.

May 2008 -- Man & Machine v. Apple, CBS
A Maryland company came out swinging against the odd couple of Apple and CBS over the rights to the name "Mighty Mouse." Man & Machine claimed its chemical-resistant and waterproof mouse, called Mighty Mouse, was being sold to hospitals a year before Apple came out with its single-button mouse of the same name. CBS (the publisher of CNET) was ensnared in the suit because owns the rights to the Mighty Mouse cartoon and had licensed the use of the name to Apple. The network was named in the lawsuit because Man & Machine says it doesn't have the right to license the name. Both Man & Machine and CBS had trademark applications filed for the name.

December 2007 -- Klausner v. Apple
The holder of a patent on visual voicemail took on two much bigger opponents before turning its sights on Apple. After eliciting huge damages payouts from AOL and Vonage, Klausner sued Apple for patent infringement involving the visual voice mail system used in the iPhone. The case never went to trial. Apple avoided that by signing a license for the technology in question.

Summer 1999 -- Apple v. iMac rip-offs
Between July and August 1999, Apple went on the offensive against iMac lookalikes. The company sued Daewoo, E-machines, and Sotec over desktops that resembled its colorful all-in-one machine a little too closely. Apple's litigation against the companies alleged violations of trade dress, which refers to the distinctive style or look of a product. Apple argued that the all-in-one systems from its competitors were too similar to the iMac in design and would cause confusion among Apple customers. Apple eventually prevailed, though it wasn't a given that they would at the time. Historically, courts had not extended trademark protection to a product's design. But at the time they were just beginning to grant trademark protection to "stylized" items on the grounds that novel industrial design can communicate a distinctive idea or image.

Apple Mighty Mouse
Apple's right to name its one-button mouse Mighty Mouse came under legal fire from a company with a mouse of the same name. Apple

February 1998 -- Imatec v. Apple
A two-year legal battle ensued before Imatec's suit against Apple's ColorSync software was dismissed. A district court rejected the $1.1 billion lawsuit filed by New York-based Imatec in 1998. The suit alleged that Apple had infringed three U.S. patents related to color calibration of computer equipment filed by Imatec President Hanoch Shalit. A judge eventually determined that neither Imatec nor Shalit owned the patents in question. ColorSync was an Apple product that allowed users to ensure that colors in printed documents closely match the colors that appear on a computer screen.

1988 -- Apple v. Microsoft and HP
The most famous Mac v. Windows battle is also the most infamous Apple-related litigation. Apple tried to sue Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard to stop them from using graphical user interface elements that looked a lot like those in Apple's Lisa and Mac OS. Apple in this case, did not prevail. The court ruled that the copyright law at the time did not allow patent protection for "the idea of a graphical user interface, or the idea of a desktop metaphor."

To confuse matters even further, in the middle of that case, Xerox decided to sue Apple for the same thing, alleging that Apple's interface was too closely based on an unlicensed Xerox graphical user interface. That lawsuit was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired.

Apple's suit against Microsoft and HP was almost entirely a failure. All of the claims were dismissed with the exception of one: the court ruled that the trash can and folder icons from HP's software did infringe. Apple did appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court declined to hear the case.



 

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