Elan asks trade agency to block Apple iPad imports

Touchpad maker demands ITC bar iPad, iPhone, iPod and MacBook from U.S. in patent dispute

A touchpad manufacturer that last year sued Apple for patent infringement filed a complaint Monday with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), asking it to ban imports of Apple products, including the iPad and iPhone.

In its complaint, Hsinchu, Taiwan-based Elan Microelectronics charged Apple with "knowingly and willingly" using Elan's technology in its touchpads and touchscreens, according to a copy provided today by Elan's Atlanta-based law firm, Alston & Bird LLP.

"Apple has used Elan's technology throughout its product line without Elan's permission," the complaint read, citing by name the iPad , iPhone, iPod Touch, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and the new Magic Mouse.

Elan asked the ITC to investigate its complaint, and if it determines that Apple violated trade laws, block importation into the U.S. of all affected Apple products.

Apple is currently shipping pre-ordered iPads to customers in the U.S. for arrival this Saturday, April 3, the media tablet's launch date .

The two companies have been waging legal warfare since April 2009, when Elan filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple. In the lawsuit, Elan claimed Apple's multitouch technology violated two its patents, and asked a California federal court to force Apple to pay triple damages and a "reasonable royalty." Apple later denied the charges and countersued, accusing Elan of violating three of its patents.

The federal lawsuit is currently in the discovery stage; no trial date has been set.

The technology described in the complaint to the ITC is Patent 5,825,352 , one of the two named in the lawsuit filed last year. In the 2009 case, Elan described that patent as "fundamental...to the detection of multiple fingers on a touch pad or touch-sensitive input device to enable the detection and use of a multifinger gestures in various applications."

The patent was originally issued in 1998 to Logitech; Elan claims it now owns the patent.

Apple is involved in other complaints lodged with the ITC. Both Apple and Nokia have traded ITC filings to ban imports of each other's phones, and in the case of Nokia's, prevent Apple from bringing virtually every hardware product , including iPods and Macs, into the U.S.

Apple has also filed a complaint with the ITC alleging that Taiwanese handset maker HTC violated 20 of its patents to develop and build a wide range of smartphones, including the Google-branded Nexus One , which runs Google 's Android mobile operating system.

Apple and Elan did not reply to requests for comment on the complaint.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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