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Apple TV at the center of Apple's latest lawsuit

post #1 of 34
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A wireless set-top-box maker is suing Apple, claiming the company hired away a trio of employees privy to patented technology that would later turn up as part of Apple TV.

The 6-page complaint was filed in an Illinois court on Tuesday by locally-based EZ4Media, Inc., an actual maker of wireless digital media players for the living room; not a patent troll. The company says it decided to file the suit only after "extensive discussions" with Apple failed to result in an amicable out of court resolution.

Specifically, EZ4Media claims that Apple TV, AirPort Express, and Macintosh personal computers infringe upon patents 7,130,616, 7,142,934, 7,142,935, and 7,167,765, which were issued between October 31, 2006 and January 23, 2007. Each of the patents were obtained by EZ4Media from Universal Electronics, Inc. this past March.

According to the suit, Apple hired three key members of Universal's technical staff -- Nick Kalyjian, Bruce Edwards and Wendy Goh -- to work in its consumer entertainment division during the development of Apple TV.

"Each of these employees had access to [Universal's] confidential and proprietary information and left [Universal] for Apple within 30 days of each other in the second quarter of 2005," the complaint says. "Apple TV was commercially introduced in September 2006."

At the time Apple TV was commercially introduced, it's alleged that Universal owned the rights to each of the four pending patent applications. The company reportedly served Apple with written notice of the four patents between May 8, 2007 and August 7, 2007, the latter of which was one week after it was granted patent number 7,167,765.

Three of the filings relate to a device, system and method for streaming digital media (such as movies, music and pictures) from a server to a playback device like a television. As such, EZ4Media claims Apple is treading on these patents through the sale of Apple TV, AirPort Express and its Mac computer line.

The fourth patent, 7,130,616, pertains to a method for automatically transferring audiovisual content from the Internet to a computer that then wirelessly funnels the media to a television for playback. EZ4Media alleges that Apple TV infringes on technology covered by this patent.

"The infringement by Apple has injured, and will continue to injure, EZ4Media unless and until such infringement is enjoined by the Court," the complaint says. "Despite the above communications and subsequent communications with EZ4Media following its acquisition of the [...] Patents, Apple has continued its infringement of the patents without legitimate basis and in an objectively reckless manner."

EZ4Media is seeking a injunction permanently prohibiting Apple from further acts of infringement in addition to a "damages adequate to compensate it for the infringement that has occurred, but in no event less than a reasonable royalty."

Apple isn't EZ4Media's first target by a long shot. The set-top-box maker has filed two earlier suits over the same patents. The first names Logitech, Netgear, and D-Link, while the second targets Samsung, Pioneer, Yamaha, D&M Holdings, and Denon.

The charges against Samsung have since been dismissed after the two companies promptly reached an undisclosed out-of-court settlement.
post #2 of 34
No ...they are a patent troll.

In June, EZ4Media filed two other patent-infringement lawsuits, the first against Logitech, Netgear, and D-Link, and the second against Samsung, Pioneer, Yamaha, D&M Holdings, and Denon. Samsung was dropped from the second lawsuit when it settled for an undisclosed sum.

They're suing any an everyone they can.
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post #3 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by hmurchison View Post

No ...they are a patent troll.

In June, EZ4Media filed two other patent-infringement lawsuits, the first against Logitech, Netgear, and D-Link, and the second against Samsung, Pioneer, Yamaha, D&M Holdings, and Denon. Samsung was dropped from the second lawsuit when it settled for an undisclosed sum.

They're suing any an everyone they can.

We clearly stated this as well. Did you read our article? EZ4Media made note of it in their suit...
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post #4 of 34
Why should they be worried? The AppleTV has been a failure from the start, even Steve Jobs said it was only a hobby. Apple isn't making any money off AppleTV. I have never heard of EZMedia. If they have such patents, where is their product? Why sue someone else for something they never created, expect for filing a patent. Also, the AirPort Express (and wireless technology) was released before their patents were ever filed.
post #5 of 34
I have 3 Apple TVs (Kitchen, Living Room, and Basement) and enjoy each one of them. I for one do not think it a failure.
post #6 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

Why should they be worried? The AppleTV has been a failure from the start, even Steve Jobs said it was only a hobby. Apple isn't making any money off AppleTV. I have never heard of EZMedia. If they have such patents, where is their product? Why sue someone else for something they never created, expect for filing a patent. Also, the AirPort Express (and wireless technology) was released before their patents were ever filed.

I think the Apple TV has a lot of potential going forward (years) as both a gaming machine tied to the iPhone/App Store and as an on-demand device for TV and True HD movies.

K
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post #7 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by hillstones View Post

I have never heard of EZMedia. If they have such patents, where is their product?

Clearly, you made no attempt to find their website. Or, if you did, you really suck at using Google.

They have products. See here.

I think the generally accepted definition of patent troll is a company that owns patents but has never attempted to use those patents themselves. They just wait to see if others attempt it, and if those others do and are succesful, the troll jumps in and attempts to make money out of others' success.

What he have here is different. A company that developed a product, along the way applying for and being granted patents. They believe that Apple infringe on those patents and on the face of it I would suggest that EZ4Media have every right to pursue this.

Whether or not anyone should be being granted patents on streaming products is another question. This looks like yet another example of a company being granted patents for the application of engineering principles leveraging long-established technologies, as opposed to genuine innovation.
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post #8 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr. H View Post

Clearly, you made no attempt to find their website. Or, if you did, you really suck at using Google.

Uhm... The post clearly said "never heard of", not "can't find". If you are going to bash someone please don't look like an idiot while you attempt it!
post #9 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by kresh View Post

Uhm... The post clearly said "never heard of", not "can't find".

No dude. Read his post again. He said "where is their product? Why sue someone else for something they never created, expect [sic] for filing a patent".

Clearly, he assumed that because he'd never heard of them, they couldn't possibly have a product. Pretty dumb assumption to make when it's really not hard to google "EZ4media".

Quote:
Originally Posted by kresh View Post

If you are going to bash someone please don't look like an idiot while you attempt it!

Oh the irony!
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post #10 of 34
Why should Microsoft innovate when they can just steal it? Oh, wait...
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post #11 of 34

Anyone? That's just a half dozen companies. There wouldn't be a settlement by a giant if the suit didn't have merit. Patents MUST be defended if the infringement comes even close, or they lose the ability to do so in the future.
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post #12 of 34
The AppleTV is just a computer that connects to other computers wirelessly. It's monitor happens to be a TV (but doesn't have to) and it's controller is a remote instead of a keyboard. Can everyone that creates a computer that can connect to other computers wirelessly and can use a TV as its display device be sued using these patents?

The only thing that even remotely makes the AppleTV different from a standard computer is that it typically only runs one application.

I'm just not sure why someone would be granted a patent for a computer in 2006...
post #13 of 34
They should sue them for the Mac Mini too since it's pretty much identical to the AppleTV, accept it's better because it will also play DVD's.
post #14 of 34
Just looking for publicity by my guess. Wasn't the Airport Express released well before the patent application suggesting much of this functionality? Was it Roku before them?
post #15 of 34
Wow, this forum reads like a kindergarden class.
post #16 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by aaarrrgggh View Post

Just looking for publicity by my guess.

Looks more like they're trying to defend patents that were granted to them that they are now exploiting in their own product. Seems fair enough to me. Would you accuse Apple of just looking for publicity if it set out to defend its patents?

Quote:
Originally Posted by aaarrrgggh View Post

Wasn't the Airport Express released well before the patent application suggesting much of this functionality? Was it Roku before them?

It's not EZ4media's fault that they were granted these patents. Yes, it beggars belief that they managed it given the massive amount of prior art. Seems par for the course nowadays in the US - looks like the patent office simply grants every damn application and leaves it up to court cases to find out if the patent's valid or not.
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post #17 of 34
The patents appear to apply, but there is always the question of broadness and timing.

Computer clients have been accessing files on report servers practically since the dawn of computers. Their patents to go great lengths describing the increasing availability of home networking technology. Apple computers were perhaps the first that made home networks and sharing of files between computers easy. So is listening to an audio file or viewing a video fundamentally different than opening a text document? If the patent is only covering the concept without introducing new techniques or technology to achieve it, then I'd think the patent it too broad.

As for timing, 2 of the 4 patents were applied for after the Airport Express was released in 2004, and all of them were issued after that. And before Airport Express there may have been other devices performing the same function (Roku and TiVo are the first that come to mind, but I don't know when they were introduced). There are even stereo receivers that can send audio to different rooms of you house which have been available for some time. Is that fundamentally different (just analog vs digital data)?
post #18 of 34
Your momma looks like mine...I'm gonna sue you!!!

If you've got a great product, then sell it. Quit acting like someone is stealing your idea and make millions. Good heavens, look at all the wannabes stealing the iPhone features...every decent smartphone now has a "touchscreen".

The reason nobody acts like they've heard of these guys is because..no one's heard of these guys!!

/
post #19 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by pairof9s View Post

If you've got a great product, then sell it. Quit acting like someone is stealing your idea and make millions. Good heavens, look at all the wannabes stealing the iPhone features...every decent smartphone now has a "touchscreen".

Yeah, even ones that came out before the iPhone had touchscreens, they were clearly copying Apple.
post #20 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by pairof9s View Post

Quit acting like someone is stealing your idea and make millions. Good heavens, look at all the wannabes stealing the iPhone features...every decent smartphone now has a "touchscreen".

The reason nobody acts like they've heard of these guys is because..no one's heard of these guys!!

Dude touch screens have been around WAY before Apple could even get a hold of their company again. You might wanna put down your Macbook, turn off your Apple TV, and pause your iPod so that you could actually get a clue as to what's been going on! I guess all of those touch screen phones that have been around since at least 2005 were copies.

BTW there are millions of companies you will NEVER hear of! There are a couple in your iPhone im sure you never even thought existed!(That's right Apple doesn't make the entire phone kiddo!!
post #21 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by 8CoreWhore View Post

There wouldn't be a settlement by a giant if the suit didn't have merit.

Other than the settlement is cheaper than fighting, I can't see a reason either.

But seriously, EZ4Media have patented something that was has been implemented for years before by others. It just wasn't that easy to do previously is the only difference.
post #22 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by tmedia1 View Post

Wow, this forum reads like a kindergarden class.

Thanks for the compliment, my good man.
post #23 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by tawilson View Post

Other than the settlement is cheaper than fighting, I can't see a reason either.

But seriously, EZ4Media have patented something that was has been implemented for years before by others. It just wasn't that easy to do previously is the only difference.

Which makes EZ4Media no different than countless other companies making countless products protected by countless patents... including Apple.

As was mentioned in an earlier post, if a company suspects infringement and doesn't defend their patent then it's far more likely they will lose it. What EZ4Media did is standard and virtually mandatory practice by sending notices of infringement.

Lastly, let's remember that patenting of prior art or natural extensions of existing practice is something many people have accused Apple of doing, too.
post #24 of 34
These patents were applied for back in 2001-2002. What products were already in use back then that would be seen as prior art?

Just asking as I don't have time to look.
post #25 of 34
I personally would hate to live in a world where only one company was granted sole permission to produce devices/software to perform a particular task. The result would be a mishmash of horrible, unintuitive user interfaces and ridiculous boundaries.

It seems like businesses are striving for total domination of a particular market niche so they can hit the pause button on innovation, take a permanent holiday and simply watch the dollars roll into their bank account.

Hopefully the Toyota's and the Apple's of the business world will drag the rest of them kicking and screaming into the 22nd century.
post #26 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dunks View Post

I personally would hate to live in a world where only one company was granted sole permission to produce devices/software to perform a particular task. The result would be a mishmash of horrible, unintuitive user interfaces and ridiculous boundaries.

That world doesn't exist luckily, mainly because patents generally cover methods to do things, not products. There are usually many ways of doing something.

I personally would hate to live in a world where an innovative idea can be ripped off by a larger company with no recourse. People bitching about "patent trolls" here need to keep that in mind.

Also the fact that Apple hired 3 people from the company to work on a competing product doesn't look good IMHO.
post #27 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dunks View Post

I personally would hate to live in a world where only one company was granted sole permission to produce devices/software to perform a particular task. The result would be a mishmash of horrible, unintuitive user interfaces and ridiculous boundaries.

Apple are amongst the companies doing their best to make this happen. The fact that they patented "multi-touch" on the iPhone means that everyone else has to invent some other way of doing something similar, but not the same resulting in..."a mishmash of horrible, unintuitive user interfaces and ridiculous boundaries". Nokia stated explicitly that they couldn't include multi-touch on the N97 because of Apple patents.

I'm a big fan of Apple and their products but they're getting away with patenting way too many things. I for one hope that EZ4Media wins this one and gives Apple a taste of their own medicine.
post #28 of 34
I thought Krups was suing for infringement on its sandwich cheese melter.
post #29 of 34
Roku's SoundBridge was released in 2004 and licensed technology from Apple to use iTunes (sans DRM). The Airport Express was released shortly after the SoundBridge. That was the first "modern" independent media streaming device that I remember.

Since Roku has more devices competing directly with EZ4Media's product offerings, and isn't listed as a target, I stick with my assumption that this is really more for publicity than anything else.

Also, you have to defend trademarks-- not patents-- for them to remain enforceable.
post #30 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by aaarrrgggh View Post

Roku's SoundBridge was released in 2004 and licensed technology from Apple to use iTunes (sans DRM). The Airport Express was released shortly after the SoundBridge. That was the first "modern" independent media streaming device that I remember.

SlimDevices' squeezebox was introduced in late 2003.
post #31 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by Hudson1 View Post

Which makes EZ4Media no different than countless other companies making countless products protected by countless patents... including Apple.

As was mentioned in an earlier post, if a company suspects infringement and doesn't defend their patent then it's far more likely they will lose it. What EZ4Media did is standard and virtually mandatory practice by sending notices of infringement.

Lastly, let's remember that patenting of prior art or natural extensions of existing practice is something many people have accused Apple of doing, too.

I could be wrong, but it seems that while, yes, Apple patents the heck out of their products, they don't go around suing every company that comes along with a similar device. Apple will sue a company that makes a knock-off of their hardware. In the past they've sued over copies of the iMac and iPods. I'm sure they've had some software lawsuits in there, but I can't think of any (I believe the Pystar lawsuit is based on copyright, not patents). Also, they will viciously go after anyone who even slightly infringes on their trademarks (but that's a different issue, too).

So it seems to me that while Apple has tons of patents, they are mostly defensive patents to discourage other, overly broad patents from being used as grounds for lawsuits against Apple.
post #32 of 34
From my point of view, the "massive amount of prior art" is:
  • Audio codecs
  • Video codecs
  • Low-power embedded computing platforms (DSP, FPGA etc. etc.)
  • Wired networking
  • Wireless networking

These all existed well before 2001. As I said, it just requires competent engineering to take these ingredients and deliver a network audio/video player. There's no way anyone should be given patents for doing it.
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post #33 of 34
i see two issues here.

1. is that they didn't put the kibosh on their peeps going to another electronics/computer company a la IBM right away. if there was a legit and enforceable contract to avoid such employment and they didn't do it at the time, do they have a right to sue on that issue now.

2. the patents. I don't know patent procedure but it appears that all the patents were granted after the offending items were released for sale. so this begs the question -- was Apple granted patents for their variation on the theme before releasing them, were these patents in the system such that Apple should not have been granted them (making the true offensive the Patent office for telling Apple they had a good ahead when they should not because of potential conflicts with a prior and not yet refused app by another company). and if these others guys asked first, would Apple have a way to know this before proceeding. because how can they be blamed if they didn't know someone was also doing the same thing, they were told they were in the clear, or they asked first.

A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

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A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

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post #34 of 34
Quote:
Originally Posted by MakAttak View Post

Dude touch screens have been around WAY before Apple could even get a hold of their company again. You might wanna put down your Macbook, turn off your Apple TV, and pause your iPod so that you could actually get a clue as to what's been going on! I guess all of those touch screen phones that have been around since at least 2005 were copies....

Nice troll. The important innovation in the iPhone is a multitouch interface, not a touch screen. In fact I doubt if any of the imitators have anything more than a touch screen that is a poor implementation of mouse style interface. It is significant that Apple has a new API architecture for multitouch that goes beyond the mouse, window, menu interface analogous to the way the Mac style interface replaced the command line interface that dominated UI before.

Apple is a big company with a long history but it really has been innovative and trying to obscure that fact by pretending that they are all the same is disingenuous at best.
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