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Monday, January 19, 2009, 07:00 am PT (10:00 am ET)

Apple among PC makers sued over OS permissions tech

Apple is among a dozen systems builders being sued this month for infringing on a pair of patents that cover system-wide software permissions for defining the range of operations that computer applications may or may not perform.

Texas-based Information Protection and Authentication of Texas (IPAT), the owner of the patents, and Florida-based Global Innovation Technology Holdings (GITH), their exclusive licensee, jointly filed the 12-page formal complaint last Thursday in a south Florida district court.

At issue is US patent No. 5,311,591, titled "Computer system security method and apparatus for creating and using program authorization information data structures," filed in 1992 and granted two years later, and US patent No. 5,412,717, its continuation granted in 1995.

Both filings detail an operating system design that includes a system monitor which limits the ability of a program about to be executed to the use of predefined resources such as data files and disk writing capabilities. The system monitor builds a data structure including a set of authorities defining that which a program is permitted to or precluded from doing.

Once defined, these sets of restrictions called program authorization information (or "PAIs"), are associated with each program to be executed to thereby delineate the types of resources and functions that the program is allowed to utilize. The PAI associated with a particular program may be assigned by a computer system owner/user or by someone who the computer system owner/user implicitly trusts.

"The program is permitted to access what has been authorized and nothing else. In this fashion, the program may be regarded as being placed in a program capability limiting 'safety box,'" the filings state. "This 'safety box' is thereafter associated with the program such that whenever the system monitor runs the program, the PAI for that program is likewise loaded and monitored. [...] If the program attempts to do anything outside the authorized limits, then the program execution is halted."

In its suit Thursday, IPAT and GITH broadly allege that Apple "has infringed or continues to infringe on one or more of the claims" of the two patents "by making, using, providing, offering to sell, and selling [...] hardware and/or software for protecting and/or authenticating information."

"Upon information and belief, Apple has also contributed to the infringement of one or more claims" of the two patents "and/or actively induced others to infringe on one or more claims" of the two filings, the complaint adds.

The two firms repeat the accusations, in whole or in part, against 11 other PC makers, including Acer, Alienware, American Future Technology, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, Motion Computing, and Panasonic.

They're seeking a trial by jury and asking the court to award an injunction, damages, and attorneys fees.

The latest suit arrives on the heels of a complaint lodged earlier this month by IPAT and GITH that made similar accusations against a group of software makers regarding the same patents. Named in that suit were Microsoft, Symantec, F-Secure, Novell, AVG Technologies and PC Tools.