THX sues Apple claiming patent infringement in iPhone, iPad and iMac speaker tech

“Apple Inc. was accused by THX Ltd., a company founded by ‘Star Wars’ producer George Lucas, of stealing speaker technology used in iPhones, iPads and iMac products,” Karen Gullo and Joel Rosenblatt report for Bloomberg News.

“THX holds a 2008 patent for a speaker unit that can boost sound output and attach to computers or flat-screen televisions, according to a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in San Jose, California,” Gullo and Rosenblatt report. “‘Apple products that incorporate the speaker units infringe the THX patent, causing the company ‘monetary damage and irreparable harm,’ according to the lawsuit.”

Gullo and Rosenblatt report, “The complaint seeks a court order to stop the alleged infringement and a reasonable royalty, or damages to compensate THX for lost profit.”

Read more in the full article here.

45 Comments

    1. The devil is in the details.

      Apple does habe many patents and just because someone says they’ve been infringed upon doesn’t necesarrilly means it’s exactly so…

      If there’s merit to this claim, there mostlikely will be some reasonable agreement or settlement – this ain’t samsung or google
      Scum…

      1. Creative labs thinks they have slot loading of acoustical transducers patented? (even as it relates to reduced baffle size) Yeah right, it would need to have been filed in the 1950’s.

        I have to think this is nothing but a publicity stunt (or possibly self delusion… on that note, wasn’t it the CEO of creative that said he was going to crush apple waaay back in the early iPod days? Same guy? I wonder…)

        1. Good example Creative…he was quite belligerent, made a big splash twice : once when he came out thumping his chest and second time when he was knocked out before they went poof…

        2. Delusion or a fishing expedition…i

          If you look at the patent it looks like there are many ways to deliver some of it’s principles of diverting sound through ducts and internal surfaces, without infringing on it…it would be a very reasonable expectation to assume that Apple engineered around it’s specifics and maybe even improved the concept and specifics of THX’s finite development.

          But regardless, this is not some unique and essential patent that was stolen and deserving of injunctive releif or damages IMO.

            1. A ducted speaker per se is not patentable.

              A specifically ducted one, or one ducted in a specifically unique way can be. Does anyone believe Apple wouldn’t implement ducting differently?

          1. Lawyers are typically willing to take a case, however illegitimate or unrealistic, as long as the plaintiff is determined and mass quantities of money are involved.

  1. I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened.

        1. Whaaaatt??

          I think someone is conflating Apple with Pixar (formerly Lucas Digital Arts… before Steve bought it from George). Lucas had nothing to do with the formation of Apple, or its rebirth when Jobs returned.

          How does stuff like this even get started… oh wait, I forgot… this is the internet.

          1. Follow along for the logic:

            George sold Pixar to Steve for $5 million. Jobs added another $5 million in capital to keep it running. The investment started to pay off (gradually), but mostly it put Steve “back in the game” as a player, since at that point he was in danger of becoming another outcast in SV. With that springboard, he became confident enough to start Next. Of course, NextStep and the potential there for a replacement for MacOS (after Pink went tits up) was one of the attractions for bringing Steve and his Next team back into Apple.

            But, the freedom to maneuver afforded Jobs by the Pixar deal was most certainly causal in Apple’s being able to lure him back to the company. It’s easy to be a tough, demanding boss when you have that kind of financial security and professional credibility.

            And all traceable to George’s divorce related money problems.

  2. So, because Apple have speakers in their iPads and iPhones, they infringe a patent for speakers in TV’s and computers?
    Surely that’s really stretching the connection; the type of speaker used in a fixed position, like a TV or desktop or laptop computer would be entirely different to a tiny little speaker used in a portable device, wouldn’t it?
    And what about suing Samsung, LG, Huwai, Nokia, Sony, etc, who all have tiny little speakers in their mobile devices, and which therefore must infringe the exact same patents.
    Any failure to do so indicates that this is just patent trolling, which demeans Lucas and THX.

    1. “THX holds a 2008 patent for a speaker unit that can boost sound output and attach to computers or flat-screen televisions, according to a complaint filed yesterday in federal court in San Jose, California,”

      This patent THX is using is from 2008. There’s previous examples of this type of technology before 2008. It’s called an amp and speakers. They should try to sue for the 1977 Apple II while they’re at it.

  3. I posted the complaint here:

        1. Actually it was, the first time.

          “THX 1138 4EB” was a short developed at UCLA film school for a class Lucas taught while he was there in 1967, and “THX 1138” an expanded version (well, the ending was mostly the content of the initial short) done later for commercial release.

          1. Thank you, and vindicated. I suppose not everyone listens all the way through those commentaries.

            Now I still say Thomas Holman has absolutely nothing to do with the naming of THX. THX was originally devoloped to play Star Wars, because theaters had crappy mono sound in the 70s.

            George Lucas used THX for the name, as liking to his first love.

            1. As a long-time cinema and home theater enthusiast who also works in the industry, I’ve never seen anything definitive one way or the other.

              To me, it makes more sense that they would have named the system after its creator (Tomlinson Holman Xover or Tomlinson Holman eXperiment/eXperience) and have Lucas be happy that it matched his first movie than the other way around.

        1. Ahhh, we are all correct, according to Wikipedia.

          However I distinctly remember that THX sound, was brought about by George Lucas, because he was unhappy with how the sound experience was, for Star Wars. Also, as a kid, I road past, what I believe to be the first THX certified theater, in Marin County, either Navato or a little north of San Rafel, viewable along US 101. This was in the late 70s – early 80s..

          This was the go-to theater to watch Star Wars, in my area. Though I was too young at the time, and never went.

          These are kid memories. For some of us, Star Wars was the first time we OCDed on anything

          So, Creative Labs has control over THX Labs. This is so sad. We all know, there is bad blood between Apple and CL. So now I am thinking THX no longer has any soul, it’s lost to the has-beens.
          —————
          THX 1138, depicts a dystopian future in which the populace is controlled through “android” police officers.

          Android, even 40 years ago.

  4. Imagine covering your speaker fronts and cutting a slot in the side or placing them facing a wall to allow tinny sound to escape via echo-reflection; that’s essentially what THX is claiming is their patentable discovery. Wow, that means my car speakers that reflect off the window technically transgress THX’s patent. So does my Panasonic TV with rear facing speakers and every decent sub-woofer ever made! I hope THX loses this one badly.

  5. I suggest we put this to a vote: In the matter of “monetary damage and irreparable harm” please indicate with a wave of your wallet whether the amazing sound coming out of your iPhone speakers have caused to you forego purchase of a “real” sound system (possibly incorporating licensed THX technology)?

    “Irreparable harm” — I would think associating THX patents with the sound coming from an iPhone would in fact have irreparable harm on the reputation of THX technology!!! If Apple didn’t claim to be using THX technology in their speakers, I think THX shouldn’t have brought it up either!

  6. So, Laurene Powell Jobs and George Lucas are probably the two largest Disney shareholders now. George sold ILM to Steve who turned it into Pixar. You’d hope that Laurene could talk to George about this.

    1. False. Ilm did not become Pixar. Pixar began in 1979 as the Graphics Group, part of the computer division of Lucasfilm before its spin-out as a corporation in 1986 with funding by Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs, who became its majority shareholder.[1] The Walt Disney Company bought Pixar in 2006 at a valuation of $7.4 billion, a transaction which made Jobs Disney’s largest shareholder.

  7. a speaker unit that can boost sound output and attach to computers or flat-screen televisions . . . Describes nothing new, nothing original, nothing worth a patent.

    More please! Otherwise, I’d have to label this as yet-another desperate attempt to parasitize money out of the most successful and creative company in the world. We shall see.

    1. Derek, I don’t know which patent you are reading but the one attached to the complaint has 4 independent claims. This seems to be the broadest:

      “A narrow-profile groundplane audio speaker system, comprising:

      a speaker housing having an enclosure portion and a base portion;
      a drive unit disposed within the enclosure portion of said speaker housing, said drive unit mounted on a baffle whereby the drive unit’s forward radiation is isolated from its rearward radiation; and
      one or more support members separating said drive unit from a substantially flat sound reflecting surface facing said drive unit;
      wherein the baffle and the sound reflecting surface define a sound duct terminating in a sound output aperture;
      whereby forward radiation from said drive unit is turned at a substantially right angle and travels along a straight path to exit the sound output aperture;
      wherein said sound output aperture is sufficiently narrow such that an interfering phase shift is avoided between the direct and reflecting sound waves output from said drive unit; and
      wherein said speaker housing is adapted to rest stably on a flat surface such that said drive unit faces towards the flat surface.”

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