RealTime IT News

Apple, Microsoft Hit With Patent Suits

BTG claims in a lawsuit against Microsoft and Apple that Web-enabled software update technologies used by both infringe on the patent awarded to Teleshuttle Technologies. BTG, a company that licenses and manages intellectual property, has exclusive worldwide licensing rights to the patent.

The suit was filed in Federal Court in the Northern District of California following BTG's unsuccessful attempts to get the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor and the Santa Clara, Calif.-based software, hardware and peripherals supplier to license the technology on "commercially reasonable terms."

Hardly a week goes by without another submarine patent surfacing. The latest is patent no. 6,557,054, a "method and system for distributing updates by presenting directory of software available for user installation that is not already installed on user station."

BTG spokesperson Christopher DeFusco said the company also is suing Microsoft separately over the Active Desktop and offline browsing capabilities in its Windows operating system and Microsoft Office productivity suite.

Microsoft spokesperson said that the company does not comment on litigation. Apple executives didn't respond to requests for comment.

"Litigation is the ultimate step in the natural progression of these proceedings," DeFusco said. "It's always our desire and intention to reach a negotiated settlement with these companies."

DeFusco said that BTG has offered licenses to several other companies in the last eight to ten months, but so far none have licensed the technology.

He said the auto-update patent might cover not only software upgrades, but also, in principle at least, content refreshing. That could put applications like WeatherBug, the free desktop application that streams live neighborhood weather conditions, in BTG's sights. Claria, provider of a contextual advertising service that delivers ads to the desktop, also could be at risk.

"We are focusing on Microsoft and Apple at this point in time," he said. "We haven't ruled out other users of this technology."

Microsoft is no stranger to patent infringement suits. On Friday, Eolas Technologies filed a brief arguing against Microsoft's petition to overturn a $512 million judgment for patent infringement. Eolas, a University of California spin-off, claims patent rights to embedding small interactive programs, such as plug-ins, applets, scriptlets or ActiveX Controls, into online documents. Last August, Microsoft lost a jury trial in the case and was hit with a $521 million judgment, as well as an injunction against distribution of its Internet Explorer browser. Microsoft lost again on appeal.

Microsoft argued that the courts were wrong to limit the introduction of information about an early browser, Viola, that Redmond claimed was an example of "prior art," a similar invention to Eolas' that appeared earlier.

"We respectfully contended that the District Court erred multiple times on issues related to prior art and claim construction and the defense based on the inventors' fraud on the patent office, and that the Court's errors fundamentally and profoundly distorted the proceedings," Microsoft attorneys Sidley Austin Brown & Wood said in a statement.

In the brief filed last Friday, Eolas countered that Viola doesn't include all the elements of Eolas' patent. According to the brief, the Viola browser was designed to work on a single computer, not in a distributed, hypermedia network environment. Neither was it public: While Viola was demonstrated to a group of engineers at Sun Microsystems the brief details the efforts of its inventor, Pei Wei, to limit who could see it.

There's also a dispute about the size of the judgment. Microsoft claims that its export sales should be deducted. According to Microsoft, because the company only sends foreign OEMs a master CD of Windows software and IE, its software is not really a component of the machines and therefore doesn't infringe Eolas' patent. According to Eolas, it does too.

Microsoft will file its reply on July 30. Oral arguments will likely take place in the fall.