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Apple TV at the center of Apple's latest lawsuit

A wireless set-top-box maker is suing Apple, claiming the company hired away a trio of employees privy to patented technology that would later turn up as part of Apple TV.

The 6-page complaint was filed in an Illinois court on Tuesday by locally-based EZ4Media, Inc., an actual maker of wireless digital media players for the living room; not a patent troll. The company says it decided to file the suit only after "extensive discussions" with Apple failed to result in an amicable out of court resolution.

Specifically, EZ4Media claims that Apple TV, AirPort Express, and Macintosh personal computers infringe upon patents 7,130,616, 7,142,934, 7,142,935, and 7,167,765, which were issued between October 31, 2006 and January 23, 2007. Each of the patents were obtained by EZ4Media from Universal Electronics, Inc. this past March.

According to the suit, Apple hired three key members of Universal's technical staff — Nick Kalyjian, Bruce Edwards and Wendy Goh — to work in its consumer entertainment division during the development of Apple TV.

"Each of these employees had access to [Universal's] confidential and proprietary information and left [Universal] for Apple within 30 days of each other in the second quarter of 2005," the complaint says. "Apple TV was commercially introduced in September 2006."

At the time Apple TV was commercially introduced, it's alleged that Universal owned the rights to each of the four pending patent applications. The company reportedly served Apple with written notice of the four patents between May 8, 2007 and August 7, 2007, the latter of which was one week after it was granted patent number 7,167,765.

Three of the filings relate to a device, system and method for streaming digital media (such as movies, music and pictures) from a server to a playback device like a television. As such, EZ4Media claims Apple is treading on these patents through the sale of Apple TV, AirPort Express and its Mac computer line.

The fourth patent, 7,130,616, pertains to a method for automatically transferring audiovisual content from the Internet to a computer that then wirelessly funnels the media to a television for playback. EZ4Media alleges that Apple TV infringes on technology covered by this patent.

"The infringement by Apple has injured, and will continue to injure, EZ4Media unless and until such infringement is enjoined by the Court," the complaint says. "Despite the above communications and subsequent communications with EZ4Media following its acquisition of the [...] Patents, Apple has continued its infringement of the patents without legitimate basis and in an objectively reckless manner."

EZ4Media is seeking a injunction permanently prohibiting Apple from further acts of infringement in addition to a "damages adequate to compensate it for the infringement that has occurred, but in no event less than a reasonable royalty."

Apple isn't EZ4Media's first target by a long shot. The set-top-box maker has filed two earlier suits over the same patents. The first names Logitech, Netgear, and D-Link, while the second targets Samsung, Pioneer, Yamaha, D&M Holdings, and Denon.

The charges against Samsung have since been dismissed after the two companies promptly reached an undisclosed out-of-court settlement.