Apple, RIM, others sued over smartphone patent

Texas-based company is suing Apple and 31 other technology companies for infringing a patent it holds that lets users make purchases from their phones.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
3 min read
A section of drawing from patent 7,525,955.
A section of drawing from patent 7,525,955. USPTO

A lawsuit filed by H-W Technology earlier this week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Dallas Division claims Apple, Research In Motion, Google, and 29 other major technology companies are infringing on a patent it was granted in April 2009.

U.S. patent number 7,525,955, which had first been filed in March 2005, is described as an "Internet protocol (IP) phone with search and advertising capability."

In its filing from Wednesday, which was picked up by The Loop, H-W Technology says the patent deals with smartphones that can plug into applications and thus get "information and offers from merchants and to complete a transaction with one of said merchants without having to generate a voice call." In other words, this affects both application stores and commerce applications.

The suit specifically takes aim at Apple's iPhone, RIM's Torch, Samsung's Focus, HTC's Thunderbolt, and Motorola's Droid X, all of which are said to be infringing on the patent. But hardware makers are not the only ones being targeted. H-W Technology is also going after application makers including Amazon, and its smartphone application.

According to the suit, Amazon's app infringes on the patent by letting smartphone users make purchases on their device without having to make a phone call. Similar claims go against eBay, Hotels.com, Google and its Android Marketplace, and travel sites like Expedia, Priceline, Orbitz, and Kayak. Verizon Communications is also thrown in for good measure, with the suit pointing to the company's VCast application server.

H-W Technology claims it has suffered monetary damages in an amount not yet determined due to the infringement, and is seeking a permanent injunction against the companies involved.

"Unless a permanent injunction is issued enjoining these defendants and their agents, servants, employees, representatives, affiliates, and all others acting on or in active concert therewith from infringing the '955 Patent, H-W will be greatly and irreparably harmed," the company said in the claim.

An expert's take
According to Alexander Poltorak, CEO and chairman of IP services firm the General Patent Corporation, the case that follows this suit will be "a procedural nightmare for the plaintiff."

"Many companies, I presume, will make a motion to transfer the case on their home jurisdiction. The motion practice will get very expensive very quickly," Poltorak said in an e-mail to CNET. "Later, the plaintiff will have to serve each of these defendants with specific infringement contentions for each of the accused products. That is a lot of work give the number of defendants."

And the buck won't stop there. "The discovery is going to be extraordinarily expensive," Poltorak said. "In such multi-defendant litigation, defendants often enter into a joint defense agreement and present a unified front. The plaintiff in this case may have grabbed a tiger by the tail."

Even so, Poltorak said that the claim itself is not too broad. What could end up being the big point of interest in all this is where the court comes down on the wording of the patent for what it actually means.

"Of particular interest will be construction of the term 'Internet Protocol Phone' or 'IP Phone,'" said Poltorak. "Typically these terms signify phones that use VoIP rather than a switch network. Cell phones are not usually classified as IP phones."

And by drafting the patent and getting it approved, Poltorak said that the patentee is able to give their own meaning to whatever words are used in the process.

"The patent specifications included in this term any 'Internet Appliance.' It will be interesting to see if the court will construe the term IP Phone to include a cell phone, which is not the ordinary meaning of the term," Poltorak said.

Embedded below is a full copy of the suit and the patent in question.