Apple Touchpad Patent Lawsuit Appears Patently Absurd

Dennis Faas's picture

A Texas company is suing at least 20 major consumer goods firms for allegedly violating a touchpad technology patent. The case has been filed in Texas' Eastern District Court, which has become notorious for patent lawsuits.

Tsera LLC was granted a patent in 2003 (following a 1999 application) for a system by which a "touchpad is mounted on the housing of the device, and a user enters commands by tracing patterns with his finger on a surface of the touchpad. No immediate visual feedback is provided as a command pattern is traced, and the user does not need to view the device to enter commands." (Source:

The firm says those devices which violate the patent include Apple's iPod, Microsoft's Zune, an LG phone and products from companies as diverse as luxury audio firm Bang & Olufsen and Chinese iPhone clone-maker Meizu.

Apple The Juiciest Target

Tsera is targeting Apple for special treatment, saying it is known to have been aware of the patent since 2004 and continued using the technology anyway. The suit calls for Apple to pay three times any actual damages as punishment, and Tsera also wants all firms involved to pay ongoing royalties for using the technology.

On the surface, the patent appears too vague to be enforceable in many (if not all) of the cases mentioned. In particular, the patent mentions that the device concerned would recognize "a plurality of preset patterns"; thus, it would be a linguistic stretch to say that applied to the iPod.

It's also notable that for many of the devices listed, the user does indeed "need to view the device to enter commands," though it may prove to be amusing to see a Tsera lawyer attempt to demonstrate otherwise in the courtroom.

Plaintiffs Hoping For Marshall Law

Given the choice of district for filing, that courtroom may well be in Marshall, Texas. The small town of just 23,000 people has become something of a hotbed for patent cases since a resident judge enforced strict rules to ensure cases were dealt with rapidly.

The court's record is slanted heavily in the plaintiff's favor when cases reach trial -- in fact, the chance that a plaintiff might prove victorious (with big damages being awarded) is substantially higher than the national average. (Source:

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