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Sunday, July 19, 2009, 09:00 am PT (12:00 pm ET)

Apple, many others in crosshairs of touchpad lawsuit

A small firm hoping to strike it rich through legal action has sued Apple, Microsoft, and virtually every other significant company making a media device under claims that they violate a patent for touchpads.

Submitted Wednesday in a Tyler court in the Eastern District of Texas — a division often favored for patent infringement complaints due to favorable rulings — the lawsuit by previously unknown Tsera LLC targets not only the makers of the iPod and the Zune but also their key competitors around the world. Among those under scrutiny are the US divisions of Korean firms like Cowon, iRiver and LG, European companies like Bang & Olufsen, Philips and TrekStor, and even the at times infamous Chinese producer of an iPhone clone, Meizu.

Tsera argues that all 20 of the defendants have, to some degree, misused a 2003 patent that recognizes different swipe movements on a touchpad without having to provide visual feedback or to look at the player to understand what's taking place. As is often the case in such lawsuits, the patent is particularly vague; both the iPod's click wheel and the Zune's click pad scroll using swipes, but they don't necessarily use patterns and instead recognize just forward, back, or (for the Zune) left and right movements as they come in.

The plaintiff hopes to capitalize on Apple most of all and claims that the iPod maker has been informed of the patent since September 2004 and has been "wanton" in continuing to produce the iPod classic and iPod nano without paying for a patent license. Accordingly, Tsera wants to draw extra money from Apple and is looking to collect "enhanced" damages against the Cupertino company where it's content with regular damages from the other 19 businesses.

Similarly, Tsera makes its motives clear and says it would force all the involved companies to pay a royalty for use of the patent if it's victorious.

Neither Apple nor any of the other defendants have commented on the lawsuit, which is demanding a formal trial by jury.