Lawsuit aimed at Apple's Mac OS may be Android battle by proxy, says expert

Disputed patent once owned by Android smartphone and tablet maker LG Electronics

A patent lawsuit aimed at Apple could be the latest shot in the ongoing battle between that company and Google's Android mobile operating system, a patent expert said today.

In a filing with a federal court in Florida, Operating Systems Solutions (OSS) claimed that Apple's Mac OS X operating system and its Mac personal computers infringe on a patent that describes a "method for fast booting a computer system."

The lawsuit, which was first reported by the Patently Apple blog, is notable because it was originally assigned to LG Electronics, the South Korean company that makes smartphones and tablets powered by Google's Android.

Apple and several Android device makers -- including Samsung and HTC -- have been wrangling in court over patents for months. Google's head counsel lately took rivals, among them Apple, to task for waging what he called a "hostile, organized campaign against Android" using "bogus patents."

The OSS patent was a reissue of Patent 6,434.696 which was originally filed in 1999 by LG Electronics. After it changed hands within Korea, the reissue ended up at a firm called Protimus Technologies in 2008.

According to U.S. Patent & Trademark Office records, the reissued patent was purchased by OSS in March 2011 from Acadia Patent Acquisitions, a subsidiary of a company called Acadia Research Group.

The latter bills itself as a "leader in patent acquisition" and boasts on its website of several patents its widely licensed.

Patent acquisition companies, often called "patent trolls" by detractors, purchase large numbers of patents, then license those patents or threaten legal action against firms that refuse to pay those fees.

Patent expert Florian Mueller speculated that the tiff between OSS and Apple was another round in the Apple-Android war, this one fought by proxy.

"This previously-unheard-of Florida-based plaintiff could be a proxy steered by LG," said Mueller in a blog post today. "In that case, this would be either a warning shot or the beginning of a wider conflict between Apple and LG, which the latter may deem inevitable."

Mueller based his conjecture on several points, including the recent litigation practices of Apple and a scarcity of information about OSS.

According to the Florida state government's business database, OSS was registered less than eight months ago, and has a Miami address. Attempts to locate a phone number or email address for the firm or its principal, Daniel Sherr, were unsuccessful.

Mueller noted that LG's Android products have been targeted by lawsuits from multiple firms, including Alcatel-Lucent, while Sony filed a complaint last December with the U.S. International Trade Commission naming a number of LG phones.

"We will see whether there's going to be any direct litigation between Apple and LG," Mueller said. "In case it happens, we'll probably see some rapid global escalation similar to what occurred between Samsung and Apple, which are now suing each other in nine countries on four continents. LG also owns patents in many countries around the globe and litigates very aggressively."

The OSS lawsuit seeks damages -- including treble damages for "in willful disregard for Plaintiff's rights -- and an injunction that would bar sales of Apple products that infringe its patent.

Lawyers representing OSS did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more articles by Gregg Keizer.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
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