Apple sued in California over touch patent

Apple products using touch technology allegedly infringe on FlatWorld's patents.

Apple products using touch technology infringe on a patent owned by the Pennsylvanian company FlatWorld Interactives, the company alleged in court documents filed on Friday. FlatWorld asked for a permanent injunction that Apple stop infringing, and for sufficient compensation for the infringements, the company's attorneys said.

The Pennsylvanian designer of touchscreen systems for use in museum displays alleged that Apple knowingly infringed on its patent, according to documents filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said. The infringing products are said to include the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad.

FlatWorld said Apple's infringement has been on a massive scale and has caused it irreparable harm. The company demanded a permanent injunction enjoining Apple from continued infringement plus an unspecified amount of damages to compensate for Apple's infringement. The company is seeking a jury trial.

FlatWorld was founded in January 2007 by Slavko Milekic, a professor in cognitive science and digital design at the University of the Arts in Pennsylvania, in order to commercialize his touch screen patent, the filing said. Milekic developed a gesture recognition system to be used by children for an easier and more intuitive way to interact with computers. His patent includes techniques that allow users to manipulate images using gestures such as flicking images off the screen and selecting an image by touching it.

Milekic filed a provisional patent application on August 28, 1997, claiming priority from that date in his definitive patent application, according to the court documents. He applied for his patent on June 12, 1998 and was granted it as U.S. patent 6,920,619 on July 19 2005, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

He assigned the patent to FlatWorld in 2007 and the patent was reissued to the company as U.S. Patent RE43,318 in April 2012. Patent holders in the U.S. can file an application to reissue a patent to correct errors made in an earlier filing, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO).

Apple received a notification about the original patent and the reissue application in September 2007, shortly after the first iPhone went on sale in the U.S. at the end of June 2007, FlatWorld's attorneys noted in the court filing. The filing also revealed that FlatWorld believes that Apple first started developing touch screen technology for the iPhone in 2005.

An initial case management conference was set for Aug. 9, 2012. At that date all parties involved are scheduled to hold a conference with the object to expose the essential issues in the litigation at an early date and to avoid unnecessary and burdensome discovery procedures in the course of preparing for trial of those issues.

Apple declined to comment on pending litigation.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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