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Apple hit with lawsuit over noise-canceling technology

A company called Noise Free says it showcased to Apple its noise-canceling technology, and then the iPhone maker responded by using it for its own good.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read
A look at Audience technology.
A look at Audience technology. Audience

Apple has been slapped with yet another patent-infringement lawsuit.

A California-based company, Noise Free Wireless, last week filed a complaint against Apple in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, alleging that Apple violated its noise-canceling technology patents. In addition, the company charged Apple with breach of contract and trade secret theft.

GigaOm, which was first to report on the lawsuit, also pointed out that a third-party, Audience, was included in the lawsuit.

According to Noise Free, it met with Apple in 2007 to discuss the potential of the Cupertino, Calif.-based company using its technology in the iPhone and iPad. Noise Free says it showed Apple PowerPoint presentations on how its technology works, and even gave it circuit boards and a phone to try out. Apple cut off all communication with Noise Free in 2009 before eventually communicating with the company again in 2010.

However, Noise Free claims, two people present at the meetings between the companies filed for a patent application on behalf of Apple for a "user-specific noise suppression for voice quality improvements" patent. Soon after, Apple decided to work with Audience on noise-cancellation, according to the company.

Apple and Audience's partnership was revealed earlier this year when the company, which delivers noise-cancellation technology, filed paperwork for an initial public offering. In the iPhone 4, Apple included a dedicated Audience chip, but in the iPhone 4S, it integrated the company's "EarSmart" technology directly into the A5 processor.

For its part, Apple hasn't commented on the lawsuit, let alone noise-reduction technology in its mobile products. However, the company might need to fire back soon: Noise Free is asking for everything from a permanent injunction against the company's infringing products to damages and attorneys cost.

CNET has contacted Apple for comment on the lawsuit. We will update this story when we have more information.