Lawsuit alleges Apple lifted idea for iChat video backdrops

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A little-known corporation from Newport Beach, California is suing Mac maker Apple Inc., alleging that a new version of the company's iChat video conferencing software infringes on patented technology through its use of custom video backdrops.

In the 6-page complaint, filed Wednesday in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Digital Background Corporation claims that the Apple software infringes on its 1998 patent entitled "Real-Time Method of Digitally Altering a Video Data Stream to Remove Portions of the Original Image and Substitute Elements to Create a New Image."

iChat 4.0, which shipped last month as part of the Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard operating system, also contains "a 'backdrop' feature which takes a picture of the background, replaces it with a photo or video of choice using a video frame storage and computer system to modify and then display the new image," the suit explains, without going into further detail.

Digital Background Corporation has asked the Court to award it a permanent injunction enjoining Apple from selling copies of Leopard that include the software, damages resulting from the infringement, treble those damages because DBC believes the infringement has been willful, and attorneys fees.

DBC's claim that infringement has been willful appears to stem from the fact that its technology has been readily accessible through a Windows product dubbed StarFX, which notes in its credits that the employed virtual backdrop technology is patented. The software application is "designed to be the industry standard for manipulating and enhancing PC video in real-time," according to a June 2000 press release.

Viewics's StarFX Software (Left) and Apple's iChat 4.0 (Right).

In addition, the company is asking in its suit that existing copies of Leopard be recalled from wholesalers, that all infringing equipment produced by Apple be destroyed, and that Apple "send a copy of any decision in this case in favor of DBC to each person or entity to whom Apple has sold or otherwise distributed any products found to infringe [its] patent, or induced to infringe [its] patent, and informing such persons or entities of the judgment and that the sale or solicited commercial transaction was wrongful."

DBC, by way of its attorneys at SimmonsCooper LLC, are requesting a trial by jury.