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Apple, iPhone drawn into touch computing patent lawsuit

A small Nevada company has added Apple and a slew of other PC makers to a lawsuit it hopes will give up royalties for an allegedly valid touchscreen patent that may affect the iPhone.

Filed on Monday in an Eastern District Texas court — a region known to rule in favor of companies that thrive on patent lawsuits — the amended complaint by Typhoon Touch Technologies accuses Apple of knowingly violating two closely related 1995 and 1997 patents by producing and selling the iPhone.

The patents superficially refer to any device with a touchscreen capable of collecting information and, while meant for in-field situations such as police stops, are allegedly so broadly worded and illustrated that virtually every company making a tablet-like device or a touch smartphone has violated some parts of both patents, which are exclusively the rights of a little-known tablet PC maker referred to in the 13-page document as Nova Mobility.

In sync with the broad reach of the patents, Typhoon plans to implicate as many major touchscreen device manufactturers as it can and includes Apple along with Fujitsu, HTC, Lenovo, LG, Nokia, Panasonic, Palm, Samsung, and Toshiba as new defendants in a suit that had started primarily with Dell, whose Latitude XT tablet PC the plaintiff says was the primary reason for the initial lawsuit.

Typhoon is also exiting settlement talks with Sand Dune Ventures, which makes the Tabletkiosk line of ultra-mobile PCs, and is drawing the company back into the much larger lawsuit.

Typhoon lawsuit diagram - layout
Illustrations describing Typhoon's touchscreen computing patents.

Among the more notable devices that Typhoon says tread on its patent are the HTC Touch smartphone, Lenovo's ThinkPad X-series notebooks, Nokia's N810 Internet Tablet and Palm's Treo handset line.

It's unclear as to how well the lawsuit and the requested jury trial will succeed. While some aspects of the patents appear relevant, others are references to outmoded technology; in one instance, a patent refers to storage over floppy and SCSI drives, neither of which are used by the named devices.

However valid the case, Typhoon believes it can generate a steady revenue stream from all of the affected companies. It wants not just financial damages but an injunction against the products involved until the companies agree to pay a "reasonable royalty" every three months.

As is nearly always true for these lawsuits, Apple hasn't commented on its involvement in the matter.