ZapMedia files patent infringement lawsuit against Apple over iPod and iTunes

ZapMedia Services, Inc. today announced that it has filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Apple, Inc. for unspecified damages related to the company’s iTunes internet site and related media players such as the iPod. The lawsuit comes after multiple attempts by ZapMedia Services to resolve its concerns with Apple over infringement of ZapMedia Services’ patents.

According to ZapMedia Services, “Beginning in the late 1990s, ZapMedia, Inc., the predecessor of ZapMedia Services, created a unique platform and vision for the enjoyment of digital media assets. In connection with this vision, ZapMedia developed a system by which it could provide hardware, software and content to consumers to allow them to gain control over their digital media assets. To protect this intellectual property, ZapMedia has obtained U.S. Patent Numbers 7,020,704 and 7,343,414, each of which is entitled ‘System and method for distributing media assets to user devices via a portal synchronized by said user devices.'”

According to ZapMedia Services, “In the course of its efforts, ZapMedia met with many major technology and media companies around the globe, including Apple, describing its vision in great detail. Without asking ZapMedia for permission, Apple subsequently unveiled its own system. Apple announced its iPod MP3 player with an integrated iTunes software application in October of 2001 and its iTunes store in April 2003.”

The lawsuit was filed in the Marshall Division of the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

MacDailyNews Note: Let’s stop here and take a little detour. In February 2006, Sam Williams reported for MIT’s Technology Review:

In one federal court in East Texas, plaintiffs have such an easy time winning patent-infringement lawsuits against big-tech companies that defendants often choose to settle rather than fight.

East Texas lawyer Michael C. Smith calls it the “rattlesnake speech.” It generally occurs in the early stages of a patent trial in the Marshall, TX, courtroom of Judge T. John Ward, when some attorney has failed to read up on the rules specific to litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

Like a scene out of the comedy movie “My Cousin Vinny,” the speech starts with a polite invitation to approach the bench — and ends with a stern warning to pick up the pace or else.

“He gives you a real talking to,” says Smith, a partner with the Roth Law Firm in Marshall and chairman of the Eastern District’s rule committee, a group of local attorneys that works with Judge Ward to set the guidelines for basic pre-trial and trial procedure. “He won’t bite you that first time, but if you don’t get the message, you’ll wish you did.”

Judge Ward’s toughness is a big reason that Marshall, a city of fewer than 20,000 residents, located 150 miles east of Dallas, has become a destination for patent attorneys around the world.

In the rough calculus of intellectual property litigation, tough judges equate with speedy cases — and that’s exactly what you want if you’re a plaintiff with limited cash, but potentially big-time settlement payments or damages from a company you claim is infringing on your patent.

As an example, attorney Smith cites the ongoing case of Laser Dynamics Inc. v. BenQ. It pits a Japanese plaintiff with a patent relating to optical disk drive recognition against a billion-dollar Taiwanese device maker. When defense counsel for BenQ failed to cough up a set of relevant e-mails in the pre-trial discovery phase, Ward, a jurist who has heard more than 160 patent cases in the seven years since his appointment to the federal bench by President Clinton, decided to make an example of the company: BenQ would have to pay a $500,000 fine and forfeit a third of its courtroom time in the upcoming case.

Okay, so back to today’s news: “The Complaint alleges that ZapMedia Services’ property is being exploited in a manner which is unlawful, and by law ZapMedia Services is therefore entitled to a reasonable royalty on Apple’s revenues related to the infringement,” said Steven G. Hill, of Hill, Kertscher & Wharton, LLP, lead litigation counsel to ZapMedia Services, in the press release.

Dating to June 2006 and continuing through the fall of 2007, ZapMedia made Apple aware of the patents and their availability for license. “When someone takes our vision and our intellectual property without a license after several attempts, we have no option but to protect it through every means available to us,” said Robert J. Frohwein, general counsel of ZapMedia Services, in the press release.

Source: Business Wire

77 Comments

  1. Interesting … to pay a $500,000 fine and forfeit a third of its courtroom time in the upcoming case … and how do you decide what 1/3rd of someone’s courtroom time is? Do you just video-tape the proceedings then excise a third of it?
    Up front, I’d like to state I don’t approve of “judge” or “court-room” shopping and feel that the plaintiff should file in the court nearest the city they call “home” in their documentation. A valid option might be to file in the defendant’s home city.

  2. Except ‘My Cousin Vinny’ is a fairly amusing film and the American legal system is a sad reality.

    According to ZapMedia Services, “beginning in the late 1990s, ZapMedia, Inc., the predecessor of ZapMedia Services, created a unique platform and vision for the enjoyment of digital media assets. In connection with this vision, ZapMedia developed a system by which it could provide hardware, software and content to consumers to allow them to gain control over their digital media assets.

    It’s odd, this system was apparently created but never became a tangible product: does this mean if I turn up at the US PTO with pages ripped out of an Arthur C. Clarke or an Asimov novel, I can claim that I “created” any number of things like the positronic brain or the satellite.

  3. @ ericdano

    If they’d done that there wouldn’t be so much money at stake. See, it costs money to pay a lawyer to come up with this stuff. Simple cost-benefit analysis. Wait until the iPod is enormous, then say…

    “Oh yeah, hey, didn’t we give Apple this idea in the first place? Wow, we should really get some of their money, since we were never able to launch an actual product of our own. Cindy, get me legal on the phone…”

    Voila! Free money!

  4. Spitzer’s $5,000 Hooker…

    Firstly, I know that Spitzer sleeping with a consenting adult female would be anathema to radical Republicans: far better to be like Mark Foley and go after boys.

    Secondly, and more to your point than your name, shall we compare that to Bush’s DoJ dropping the ball on Microsoft’s abuse of its monopoly.

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