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iPhone assembly rumored begun; Apple faces touchscreen lawsuit

Two separate rumors have Apple ramping up production of its 2009 iPhones, including possible new hardware details. However, the company may have hit a snag as a Taiwanese firm has sued it for allegedly violating a patent for touchscreen input.

2009 iPhone production underway?

If two reports are accurate, Apple is on the verge of producing its updated iPhone range that most anticipate will show at June's Worldwide Developers' Conference.

Taiwan's Commercial Times newspaper on Wednesday cited "component suppliers" who said that local companies have started shipping parts needed to assemble new iPhones. While the publication didn't say what these parts were, its assertion quickly follows a report from DigiTimes which indicated that an American firm, OmniVision, had won an order to ship 3.2-megapixel cameras to Apple for the handsets, indicating that production partly hinges on other countries as well.

Strangely, the sources also claimed that as many as 3 million "old and new" iPhones would ship in the quarter after the new cell phone's introduction. Apple typically ceases production of old models of any product when it starts up new production and usually has enough goods in the supply channel to continue sales until a new model is released.

A different analyst report, however, paints a different picture. Kaufman Bros. researcher Shaw Wu claimed the same day to have heard that Apple will build between 5 million and 6 million all-new iPhones during the summer, or a significant step up from spring estimates.

He also purported to have details of the new models themselves, and suggested that two will exist: one would supposedly have a longer-lived battery and a faster processor, while another would be a basic iPhone meant to appeal on cost. Additionally, he maintained that AT&T is considering tiered data plans that would let customers scale back their service to bring down the minimum subscription from its current $70 per month.

While these production numbers are more consistent with Apple's recent sales performance, recent analyst reports from Wu have had a very mixed track record. Earlier this year, one investors' note inaccurately posited that Apple would introduce both dual- and quad-core iMacs with its next update, though he has occasionally proved more accurate than others in some instances.

Apple slapped with lawsuit over touchscreen tech

Whatever Apple's production plans, the company will have to clear a legal hurdle from Taiwan semiconductor firm Elan Microelectronics. The latter is suing Apple for allegedly infringing on touchscreen patents.

The iPhone, iPod touch and even the MacBook line are using finger positioning technology that Elan had already developed, according to the complaint. The southeast Asian company has already won a related lawsuit against Synaptics, which is best-known for making trackpads as well as earlier forms of the conventional iPod's scroll wheel.

No specific damage claims have been specified in the lawsuit. Likewise, it's also unknown whether Apple can resort to the prior art of earlier trackpads or its existing touchscreen patents to support its case.

Neither of the involved parties has offered to comment.