Ericsson seeks to block sales of Apple products in US, stepping up patent dispute

In a barrage of nine lawsuits filed Thursday, Ericsson alleges that Apple's iPhone and iPad infringe a total of 41 of its patents

Some Apple products may be banned from sale in the U.S. if Ericsson gets its way after filing a barrage of patent lawsuits.

The Swedish telecommunications equipment vendor filed nine lawsuits against Apple on Thursday, seven in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas and two in the U.S. International Trade Commission, alleging infringement of a total of 41 of its patents, it said Friday.

Apple is no stranger to the courts when it comes to patent disputes. Previous cases have often focused on the "look and feel" of its products, turning on the curvature of a phone's corners, or how it indicates that it can't perform an action when someone swipes the screen. Many of the patents Ericsson says Apple is infringing, though, cut right to the heart of smartphone and tablet functionality: their ability to connect to 2G, 3G or 4G mobile networks to make calls or exchange data.

Until last month, Apple had a license for the patents at issue, but declined the new terms Ericsson offered when the existing agreement ran out.

Such brinksmanship is not uncommon when licensees think they can get a better deal through the courts. In recent years, courts have been increasingly hostile to companies seen to be holding their competitors hostage with patents that are essential to the implementation of common industry standards.

When such standards are defined, most standards bodies require that participating companies declare any patents they consider essential to the standards' implementation, and agree to license them to all on "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" (FRAND) terms. Most standards bodies do not define how much would constitute a fair license fee, though, preferring to leave that for the parties to agree -- or if they can't, for the courts to decide.

Ericsson sought a ruling last month from the Texas court on whether its offer to Apple was fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory.

Now, in the continuing absence of an agreement from Apple, Ericsson has asked the ITC to block U.S. sales of Apple iPhones and iPads it alleges are infringing its patents, and is pursuing sales injunctions and a claim for damages in the Texas court. One of the ITC suits covers patents Ericsson considers essential to mobile networking standards, the other concerns patents it claims Apple has infringed in other aspects of its mobile phone and tablet designs.

Ericsson is seeking an injunction on iPhone and iPad sales, future royalties, and an unspecified amount of damages. The company said in the suits that it couldn't put a figure on how much it had lost due to Apple's refusal to agree to a license without going through discovery and special accounting processes.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Peter Sayer covers general technology breaking news for IDG News Service, with a special interest in open source software and related European intellectual property legislation. Send comments and news tips to Peter at peter_sayer@idg.com.

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Peter Sayer

IDG News Service
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