Patent holder sues Ap­ple, Google, 4 oth­ers over smart phones

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By Peter Svensson

NEW YORK — The patent-hold­ing com­pany that won a $600 mil­lion set­tle­ment from the maker of the Black­Berry said Fri­day it has sued six other com­pa­nies in the smart phone in­dus­try.

Patent com­pany NTP Inc. is su­ing Ap­ple Inc., Google Inc., Mi­crosoft Corp., HTC Corp., Mo­torola Inc. and LG Elec­tron­ics Inc., claim­ing in­fringe­ment of the same pa­tents that were at is­sue in its case against Black­Berry-maker Re­search In Mo­tion Ltd.

The law­suit against RIM ended with a $612.5 mil­lion set­tle­ment in 2006. How­ever, changes in court prac­tices have re­duced NTP’s power to win large set­tle­ments, mak­ing it likely to re­ceive much less from each de­fen­dant this time.

Mi­crosoft and Ap­ple said they had no com­ment; the other com­pa­nies named in the law­suits did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

NTP was founded by Thomas Cam­pana, an in­ven­tor, and Don Stout, a lawyer. Cam­pana worked on wire­less e-mail technology in the early 1990s but never com­mer­cial­ized the technology. He died in 2004.

In the af­ter­math of the RIM set­tle­ment, NTP’s pa­tents have been re-ex­am­ined by the U.S. Patent and Trade­mark Of­fice, and many of their claims have been thrown out. But the of­fice up­held three of the 10 patent claims that RIM was found to have in­fringed, said Stout, NTP’s pres­i­dent.

“Now we have to move for­ward,” Stout said. “We hope we can re­solve these cases with­out hav­ing to go to trial.”

NTP now faces a dif­fer­ent, and more dif­fi­cult, le­gal en­vi­ron­ment than it did when it sued RIM, said Alexan­der Poltorak, chair­man and CEO of Gen­eral Patent Corp., which rep­re­sents small com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­ual in­ven­tors against larger com­pa­nies.

The main threat NTP wielded against RIM was that of a court-or­dered halt of the sale of Black­Ber­rys and the op­er­a­tion of its e-mail ser­vice in the U.S. But a Supreme Court rul­ing in 2006, a few months af­ter the RIM set­tle­ment, made such in­junc­tions much harder to ob­tain for “non-prac­tic­ing en­ti­ties” such as NTP, which don’t have com­mer­cial prod­ucts.

That means the de­fen­dants have less rea­son to set­tle for large amounts, and NTP’s real hope is that the court will de­cide that the de­fen­dants have to pay it dam­ages and roy­al­ties on patent-in­fring­ing prod­ucts, Poltorak said. It can do that for prod­ucts made up to six years ago. Its pa­tents ex­pire in 2012, which means there won’t be many fu­ture roy­al­ties to col­lect.

The law­suit against Ap­ple cites its iPhone and

iPad de­vices, server soft­ware and Mo­bileMe in­for­ma­tion-sync­ing ser­vice. Tai­wan-based HTC makes some of the most sought-af­ter al­ter­na­tives to the iPhone, such as the EVO 4G, sold by Sprint Nex­tel Corp., and the Google Nexus One, sold by Google. Ap­ple and HTC have sued each other over pa­tents on var­i­ous smart phone func­tions.

Google and Mi­crosoft don’t make smart phones them- selves, but NTP’s law­suits cite the soft­ware they pro­vide to phone man­u­fac­tur­ers.

In 2006 and 2007, NTP sued the nation’s four largest wire­less car­ri­ers — AT&T Inc., Deutsche Telekom AG’s TMo­bile USA, Sprint Nex­tel Corp. and Ver­i­zon Wire­less — and phone maker Palm Inc. over the same pa­tents. Those law­suits are still pend­ing.

The law­suits were filed Thurs­day af­ter­noon in U.S. District Court in Rich­mond, Va.

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