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

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 2014
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.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 57

    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?

  • Reply 2 of 57
    pendergastpendergast Posts: 1,358member
    pscooter63 wrote: »
    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?
  • Reply 3 of 57


    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.

  • Reply 4 of 57
    hydrhydr Posts: 146member
    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.

  • Reply 5 of 57
    blitz1blitz1 Posts: 412member
    @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.
  • Reply 6 of 57
    bdkennedy1bdkennedy1 Posts: 1,459member
    From what I've heard from every review, the new iMac's speaker suck.
  • Reply 7 of 57
    hydrhydr Posts: 146member


    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.

  • Reply 8 of 57
    hydrhydr Posts: 146member

    removed, posted twice. 

  • Reply 9 of 57
    phone-ui-guyphone-ui-guy Posts: 1,018member
    Wave guides and this method of speaker alignment has been around for quite a while. They should be looking for prior art on this.
  • Reply 10 of 57
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member

    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.

  • Reply 11 of 57
    addaboxaddabox Posts: 12,660member


    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.

  • Reply 12 of 57


    #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. 

  • Reply 13 of 57


    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.  

  • Reply 14 of 57
    rot'napplerot'napple Posts: 1,839member
    bdkennedy1 wrote: »
    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?!
  • Reply 15 of 57
    ronnronn Posts: 333member

    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.

  • Reply 16 of 57
    thepixeldocthepixeldoc Posts: 2,257member
    blitz1 wrote: »
    @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!

    Just sayin'...8-)
  • Reply 17 of 57
    jeffdmjeffdm Posts: 12,949member
    I would be surprised if there was no prior art on this.
  • Reply 18 of 57
    jollypauljollypaul Posts: 328member


    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.

  • Reply 19 of 57
    drblankdrblank Posts: 3,383member

    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.  

  • Reply 20 of 57
    lightknightlightknight Posts: 2,312member
    Let's boycott Star Wars! Anyway, it seems it will suck.
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