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Apple sued by THX for allegedly misusing patented speaker tech in iPhone, iPad and iMac

post #1 of 56
Thread Starter 
THX, the sound innovation company founded by George Lucas, filed suit against Apple in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Thursday, claiming that various models of the iPhone, iPad and iMac product lineups infringe on a single speaker patent for a "narrow profile speaker."

According to the complaint, Apple knowingly infringed and continues to infringe upon THX's U.S. Patent No. 7,433,483 for "Narrow profile speaker configurations and systems," a property granted in 2008 describing methods to effectively enhance sound quality in compact speaker arrangements integrated into consumer electronics like computers and televisions.

As noted by Bloomberg, THX claims Apple's violation caused monetary damages and irreparable harm, and seeks royalties or damages to make up for lost profit.

Best known for its theater sound technology, THX was founded in 2002 and holds numerous patents relating to speaker hardware and acoustics technology. With the company's compalint against Apple, THX is leveraging a specific property covering a system that delivers quality audio from a speaker disposed in a confined area. More specifically, one of the patent's claims notes the output aperture, sometimes referred to as the speaker duct, is relatively more narrow than the speaker face.

The '483 patent also describes a system in which a sound reflecting surface is parallel with the the drive unit, or speaker face, and mounting surface, with sound dampening material placed around the reflecting and mounting surfaces to create an acoustically isolated environment. Sound is channelled toward a narrow sound duct which is positioned at a right angle in relation to the drive unit.

iMac Speaker
Illustration of one embodiment of the '483 patent (top), and another of the narrow sound duct
situated at a right angle in relation to the driver units (bottom). | Source: USPTO


Alleged infringing devices include iPhone models from the 4S onward and undisclosed iterations of the iPad and iMac. Looking at the patent claims, there appears to be some correlation with the configurations used in Apple's products. Perhaps most compelling is the latest iMac's speakers, which features an extremely thin profile with channeled acoustics exiting down-facing apertures that are more narrow than the speaker faces hidden within the machine. It is unknown if the speaker housings actually employ '483 patent's designs, though the structure looks to be similar to those described.

iMac Speaker Duct
The new iMac's speaker aperture shown in red.


For its part, Apple also owns a variety of speaker-centric patents, including those directly related to implementation with portable devices like the iPhone and iPad. Most recently, the company was granted U.S. Patent No. 8,385,568 for "Low-profile speaker arrangements for compact electronic devices," which could substantially share some claims with the THX patent in suit. The '568 patent will likely not be used in Apple's defense, however, as it was filed for in 2010 and granted in February 2013.

The Cupertino company does hold sound technology patents pre-dating the '483 property, though it may come down to a decision over patent validity, if the case moves forward at all. As devices become increasingly thin, the number of methods in which speakers can be effectively implemented within a given chassis is greatly reduced.

Apple's last day to meet and confer with THX counsel and the court over initial disclosure, an early settlement and other stipulations is May 14. The deadline for initial disclosures is June 7, while the initial case management conference is scheduled for June 14.

post #2 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Best known for its theater sound technology, THX was founded in 2002 and holds numerous patents relating to speaker hardware and acoustics technology.

 

Not so fast there, Sparky: didn't THX certification come out in the early-to-mid 1980s?

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post #3 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by PScooter63 View Post

Not so fast there, Sparky: didn't THX certification come out in the early-to-mid 1980s?

I believe they were spun off in 2002.

Also, aren't they owned by Creative now?
post #4 of 56

Actually, the current incarnation of THX might have been founded in 2002, after spinning off from Lucasfilm. If it still belonged to Lucas, there likely would be no suit, thanks to the Apple/Disney connection.

post #5 of 56
Mobile has become HUGE. Everyone wants a bite. The next few years will be very interesting in regards to patent lawsuits, and as a result will bring some much sought after reform.
post #6 of 56
@hydr: didn't know that an iMac is a mobile device. I'll give it a try with my 27''. It seems like you're clearly missing the point.
post #7 of 56
From what I've heard from every review, the new iMac's speaker suck.
post #8 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blitz1 View Post

@hydr: didn't know that an iMac is a mobile device. I'll give it a try with my 27''. It seems like you're clearly missing the point.
 

Who said anything about iMac? Read the title: Apple sued by THX for allegedly misusing patented speaker tech in iPhone, iPad and iMac. 

Where is the money? In iMac sales? Give me a break.

post #9 of 56
Wave guides and this method of speaker alignment has been around for quite a while. They should be looking for prior art on this.
post #10 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by PScooter63 View Post

 

Not so fast there, Sparky: didn't THX certification come out in the early-to-mid 1980s?

THX certification has nothing to do with the patent.  THX Certification is not really a product design, but more of a quality assurance program.  Personally, it's kind of BS, but I guess if it makes people have the warm and fuzzies when they buy Home Theater equipment, then it makes them feel comfortable.

post #11 of 56

Although the original THX theater certification really did mean something, and was implemented at a time when theater sound was hit or miss, with mostly misses.

 

That was at a time when Lucas (and Coppola) were advancing the state of the art by creating elaborate, multichannel soundtracks (and creating the job title of "sound designer") but there were few venues that could do justice to what they were creating.  Dolby "stereo" (actually four track) was the de facto standard, but venue specific implementations could be really, really bad, way worse than even mediocre stereo because if the channel steering was off or the speakers not up to par or the room acoustically poor you could wind up with unintelligible dialogue, muddy, intrusive bass, random surround,  etc.

 

THX certification was a way of leveraging Lucas' clout (this was in advance of Star Wars Episode 6) to get theaters to upgrade to properly implemented surround, which had only been around for a few years at that point (starting with Apocalypse Now).  It gave venues an easily recognizable brand that they could market and it gave the filmmakers some assurance that audiences would hear what they intended.

 

The current THX, however, is just a brand intended to mean "quality", trading in consumers familiarity with the pre-show THX sliding tones.   The particulars of how consumer audio equipment gets deployed are too varied to be able to extend any of the assurances of the theater program, which extended to things like the acoustic shape of the theater, sound proofing and deadening, floating floors, etc.

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post #12 of 56

#bdkennedy1 I read reviews that said they weren't that great to reviews that said they were superb. Don't believe anyone, try it for yourself. I'm very happy with my new iMac and to me, the speakers are much better than the ones in the previous iMac. We purchased 3 for our office, and on one I also put the small pair of Bose speakers on it, which makes it almost unbearably loud if I'm not careful but I don't think it improved the sound, which I don't think needed improving. Just my observations. 

post #13 of 56

I'm wondering why they put out their own app for IOS to fine tune and calibrate the sound, then filed a law suit so soon afterwards. These patent trolls obviously know what patents they own. The way they wait for years to file a law suit, or buy a patent to file a law suit.  

post #14 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post

From what I've heard from every review, the new iMac's speaker suck.

If every review says the new iMacs speaker suck, maybe those that purchased one should sue THX technology?!

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post #15 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blitz1 View Post

@hydr: didn't know that an iMac is a mobile device. I'll give it a try with my 27''. It seems like you're clearly missing the point.

 

"...claiming that various models of the iPhone, iPad and iMac product lineups infringe on a single speaker patent for a 'narrow profile speaker.' "

 

Sales of the iPhone and iPad  outpace sales of the iMac.

post #16 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Blitz1 View Post

@hydr: didn't know that an iMac is a mobile device. I'll give it a try with my 27''. It seems like you're clearly missing the point.

While certainly not mobile in the MBP or iOS sense, I do take my 27" to many events, on location photo shootings, and "some" clients.

As a powerful AIO and with room in the original case for everything I might need, including Wacom tablet, it's an easy 5 minute setup. It also has the advantage that when going through photos on Lightroom or demoing a program/website... I don't have multiple people crowded in and literally breathing down my neck. I hate that!

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post #17 of 56
I would be surprised if there was no prior art on this.
post #18 of 56

This is old technology. New speakers will be integrated with Apple's omni-cell technology, combining touch, haptic, display and sound into a single cloth like layer worn as an iCloak. In camouflage mode, it makes you invisible like that short fellow in Lord of the Rings.

post #19 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by bdkennedy1 View Post

From what I've heard from every review, the new iMac's speaker suck.

Most AIO computer speakers are not going to be that great, regardless of the brand.  They aren't designed to be on par with a real audio system.  I think the new iMacs sound a lot better than my older iMac that I just replaced with a new iMac.  But to please my audiophile palette, no internal computer speaker can do that.

 

I replaced the internal speakers with a pair of external two way monitors as I use my iMac as a media system.

 

I don't buy a computer to replace my audio system.

 

To even think or suggest that they can replace a traditional stereo is kind of foolish unless QoS is unimportant.  

post #20 of 56
Let's boycott Star Wars! Anyway, it seems it will suck.

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Social Capitalist, dreamer and wise enough to know I'm never going to grow up anyway... so not trying anymore.

 

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post #21 of 56
Hmmm. I thought you can't patent a shape. /s
post #22 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by hydr View Post

Mobile has become HUGE. Everyone wants a bite. The next few years will be very interesting in regards to patent lawsuits, and as a result will bring some much sought after reform.
 

The lawyers agreed to disagree... this is just a paycheck for the lawyers on both sides to whittle down the .10USD (guess) per iDevice Royalty, to .001USD (apple's through away 'offer' [they want free]).  My guess THX  will settle somewhere around 1-3 cents per unit (upwards of what... $200K per year, and soon approach $1M... and setting the case for all these other tablet/iphone manufacturers), and The lawyers about 250KUSD per side if it goes to court.

post #23 of 56
Originally Posted by lightknight View Post
Let's boycott Star Wars! Anyway, it seems it will suck.

 

I enjoyed the originals for what they were and the prequels because they were terrible. 

 

I look forward to Star Wars Episode VII: The Jar Jar Clones Racially Offend Back.

Originally posted by Marvin

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post #24 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Rot'nApple View Post


If every review says the new iMacs speaker suck, maybe those that purchased one should sue THX technology?!

 

AIO speakers suck regardless of the mfg.  Come on, I don't people are buying AIO computers to replace an existing stereo system.  They are just a basic audio system and that's all they are, over time they might have some improvements hear and there, but they can't compare to a REAL audio system designed from the ground up to be an audio system.

post #25 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by PScooter63 View Post

 

Not so fast there, Sparky: didn't THX certification come out in the early-to-mid 1980s?

The specification was in 1983 not the company, the spec was formed when it was part of Lucas Film.   The company was formed when it was spun off from Lucas Film in 2001.  

 

 

 

Quote:
THX is a high-fidelity audio/visual reproduction standard for movie theaters, screening rooms, home theaters,computer speakers, gaming consoles, and car audio systems. The current THX was created in 2001 when itspun off from Lucasfilm Ltd. THX was developed by Tomlinson Holman at George Lucas's company,Lucasfilm, in 1983 to ensure that the soundtrack for the third Star Wars film, Return of the Jedi, would be accurately reproduced in the best venues. THX was named after Holman, with the "X" standing for "crossover"[1] as well as a homage to Lucas's first film, THX 1138. The distinctive crescendo used in the THX trailers, created by Holman's coworker James A. Moorer, is known as the "Deep Note".

Just a history quote from wikipedia, but you can read the same on THX's website.

post #26 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by addabox View Post

Although the original THX theater certification really did mean something, and was implemented at a time when theater sound was hit or miss, with mostly misses.

 

That was at a time when Lucas (and Coppola) were advancing the state of the art by creating elaborate, multichannel soundtracks (and creating the job title of "sound designer") but there were few venues that could do justice to what they were creating.  Dolby "stereo" (actually four track) was the de facto standard, but venue specific implementations could be really, really bad, way worse than even mediocre stereo because if the channel steering was off or the speakers not up to par or the room acoustically poor you could wind up with unintelligible dialogue, muddy, intrusive bass, random surround,  etc.

 

THX certification was a way of leveraging Lucas' clout (this was in advance of Star Wars Episode 6) to get theaters to upgrade to properly implemented surround, which had only been around for a few years at that point (starting with Apocalypse Now).  It gave venues an easily recognizable brand that they could market and it gave the filmmakers some assurance that audiences would hear what they intended.

THX certification didn't really have all that much to do with surround specifically.    It had to do with certifying that noise levels in a theatre (primarily from HVAC systems) were minimized, EQing the acoustics of a theatre and with certain minimum standards for the amplifiers and speakers, which mainly had to do with distortion levels and frequency response. All of this applied whether the theatre was mono or 70mm split surround.   In addition, THX leased theatres an electronic crossover for the speakers and you had to mount the speakers onto a large front surface, usually made of plywood.   

 

The idea of THX was to gain consistency so that the mixer and theatre patrons would hear essentially the same thing, but it didn't really work.    In practice, different THX theaters sounded very different from each other.    The Coronet in San Francisco sounded spectacular, but the certified screens at the Chelsea in NYC sounded "ordinary".     The other problem was that while Los Angeles and San Francisco theaters would advertise that they were THX certified, the few New York theaters that were certified did not.    Over time, theaters dropped out of the program because they had to pay for recertification each year and most (especially if they didn't advertise the fact that they were THX) didn't perceive a financial return from the investment.    And patrons, if they were aware at all, thought that THX was simply another sound playback format, like Dolby Stereo, which it wasn't. 

 

As of late 1997, Nevada had the highest percentage of THX certified screens (45 out of 146), but California had the highest overall number (260 out of 2924).   But overall, only 3.1% of U.S. screens were certified.  

 

 

 

This is a photo of the THX mounted speakers at the AMPAS theatre.   Since speakers always had "wings", I don't know how THX can claim  patent on simply adding flat fronts, if that's indeed what they're claiming as part of the lawsuit.    

post #27 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pendergast View Post


I believe they were spun off in 2002.

Also, aren't they owned by Creative now?

You are correct except it was 2001 there were spun off:

 

 

Quote:
THX is currently owned by sound card manufacturer Creative Labs, which holds a 60% share of the company. The company has had a long history with Creative, and was responsible for the creation of the first THX-certified audio card for computers, the Sound Blaster Audigy 2.

Another wikipedia quote but accurate.

post #28 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by drblank View Post

 

AIO speakers suck regardless of the mfg.  Come on, I don't people are buying AIO computers to replace an existing stereo system.  They are just a basic audio system and that's all they are, over time they might have some improvements hear and there, but they can't compare to a REAL audio system designed from the ground up to be an audio system.


These things are more likely to be criticized when it comes to Apple as they have a limited number of products in their lineup, and other machines can't legally run OSX.

post #29 of 56
If I was THX I wouldn't be trying to grab credit for the iPhones speakers. My iPhone4s speakers sucks and I guess that's because of the THX design.
post #30 of 56
Originally Posted by simmadownnow View Post
My iPhone4s speakers sucks and I guess that's because of the THX design.


Or the fact that it's a phone.

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Even if [the 5.5” iPhone] exists, it doesn’t deserve to.
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post #31 of 56
I was one of the few acoustic engineers at THX working on this speaker technology for years. I no longer work there. There is a case against Apple, but I believe they can get out of it by looking at prior art and the bandwidths used in the patent.
post #32 of 56

Apple sues someone for patent infringement and there is widespread crucification of the accused. Someone else sues Apple and there is suddenly a display of open-mindedness: Oh maybe there is prior art. Maybe this. Maybe that. Objectivity and credibility be damned.

post #33 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post

Apple sues someone for patent infringement and there is widespread crucification of the accused. Someone else sues Apple and there is suddenly a display of open-mindedness: Oh maybe there is prior art. Maybe this. Maybe that. Objectivity and credibility be damned.

Don't tell me you just noticed this.

post #34 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by gravytrain View Post

I was one of the few acoustic engineers at THX working on this speaker technology for years. I no longer work there. There is a case against Apple, but I believe they can get out of it by looking at prior art and the bandwidths used in the patent.


Cool! What was it like working there? A blast? ;)

post #35 of 56

THE LAWYERS ARE LISTENING.

 

post #36 of 56
THX has become nothing more than a Good Housekeeping seal of approval. When Lucasfilm debuted the original Theater Alignment Program (TAP) in 1983, it served a useful purpose by establishing some minimum standards for equipment performance and theater auditorium acoustics, which in those days was wildly inconsistent from one venue to another. Once THX diversified into home theater and computer audio, it diluted the entire program. In fact, for home theater, THX's original mandate of requiring dipolar speakers for the surround channels actually degraded the surround performance for home theater-specific 5.1 (and 7.1) movie soundtracks and multichannel music. And in recent years, I've seen more and more manufacturers dropping their THX licenses, and it seems that more movie theaters are also opting out of the THX program.

I suspect that these patents have more to do with creating proprietary design features that THX licensees can use for marketing purposes. The reality is that THX certification brings nothing unique to the table, and non-THX equipment can easily match or exceed the THX standards. As others have mentioned, wave guide speaker designs have been around for decades, and from what I see, this particular design brings nothing new to the table. If anything, it's a simplified implementation of principles that companies like Bose, Klipsch, and others have used for decades.
post #37 of 56

I just heard them. They actualy sound a lot better than my 27" iMac (2010) speakers

...In my opinion.

post #38 of 56

Gosh, that looks like my idea from about 40 yrs ago.

Darn it,

I could have played the patent game and been rich off of Apple's back.

post #39 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by stelligent View Post

Apple sues someone for patent infringement and there is widespread crucification of the accused. Someone else sues Apple and there is suddenly a display of open-mindedness: Oh maybe there is prior art. Maybe this. Maybe that. Objectivity and credibility be damned.


It is dumb, but note how many of those posts are attached to accounts with 1-10 total posts.

post #40 of 56
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

THX claims Apple's violation caused monetary damages and irreparable harm

How?

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