Apple, Elan Touch Screen Dispute Won't Be The Last - InformationWeek

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Apple, Elan Touch Screen Dispute Won't Be The Last

While patent holders like to portray the alleged offenders as evil, a company can build its own technology without ever looking at a competitors' and still violate someone's IP, experts point out.

With touch screens becoming increasingly more prevalent in computers, smartphones, and other devices, the tech industry is likely to see many more lawsuits like the one Apple was recently served by Elan Microelectronics.

That's because companies can easily infringe on another's pattern without knowing, or after making an honest determination that their own technology is unique, experts suggest.

"It's very easy to get sued for patent infringement in the United States," Yar Chaikovsky, patent attorney in Silicon Valley for the law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, told InformationWeek. "You're not looking at a high hurdle."

In the case of the Elan suit, filed Tuesday in San Francisco federal court, the Taiwanese company claims Apple's technology for using multiple fingers to manipulate images and other content on a touch screen infringes on two Elan patents, The New York Times reported. The infringement allegedly involves the MacBook computer, iPhone, and iPod Touch.

While it's not clear what damages Elan is seeking, Chaikovsky said it's likely the company would seek a cross-licensing deal with Apple, which is certain to have patents that Elan would find useful.

Given the projected growth in touch-screen devices, as well as lax U.S. patent laws, the industry probably will see many more such suits. Sales of touch-screen displays will reach $6.4 billion by 2013 from $3.4 billion in 2008, according to iSuppli.

With so much money at stake, companies will try to get the most they can from their patents. Apple itself put rivals on notice in January that it will defend its own intellectual property. The warning came in the same month Palm unveiled its Pre smartphone, a multitouch device hailed by industry observers.

"We are watching the landscape," chief operating officer Tim Cook told financial analysts. "We like competition, as long as they don't rip off our IP, and if they do, we're going to go after anybody that does."

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