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Apple among 36 companies targeted in e-mail spam patent suit

A new lawsuit filed this week has accused Apple, Google and numerous others of patent infringement, alleging that the companies are improperly profiting from spam filtering technology created by InNova.

Apple and Google are among 36 total corporate defendants in the patent infringement suit, announced Wednesday by the Lanier Law Firm. The complaint was filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas in Marshall.

The suit deals with U.S. Patent No. 6,018,761, related to technology that is used to differentiate between regular e-mail messages and unwanted advertising spam. The patent is owned by mathematician Robert Uomini, founder of InNova. It was filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office nearly 15 years ago.

The patent is the only one currently available for licensing on the company's official website.

Awarded in 2000, the patent is entitled "System for Adding to Electronic Mail Messages Information Obtained from Sources External to the Electronic Mail Transport Process." It describes a system that could obtain information about a message, even if the message does not include information such as name, address or telephone number. A database of this contextual information could be used to sort e-mails.

"Defendant Apple Inc. has been and now is infringing on the '761 patent in the State of Texas, in this judicial district, and elsewhere in the United States, by making, using, offering to sell, and/or selling e-mail filtering software and/or hardware including, without limitation, Apple OS X and the software and/or hardware used to filter e-mail sent to the domain 'apple.com,'" the suit reads.

In a press release, lead counsel Christopher Banys said that the defendants have used InNova's invention for years without permission from the company.

"E-mail as we know it would essentially stop working if it weren't for InNova's invention," Banys said. "More than 80 percent of e-mail is spam, which is why companies use InNova's invention rather than forcing employees to wade through billions of useless e-mails. Unfortunately, the defendants appear to be profiting from this invention without any consideration for InNova's legal patent rights."

The full list of defendants follows: 3Com Corporation; Alcatel-Lucent Holding, Inc.; American International Group, Inc.; Apple; AOL, Inc.; Bank of America Corporation; Capital One Auto Finance, Inc.; Capital One Financial Corporation; Cinemark, Inc.; Cinemark Holdings, Inc.; Citigroup, Inc.; Crossmark, Inc.; Dell, Inc.; Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Inc.; Ericsson, Inc.; Frito-Lay, Inc.; Frito-Lay North America, Inc.; Google; Hewlett-Packard Company; HP Enterprise Services, LLC; International Business Machines Corporation; JCPenny, J.C. Penney Corporation, Inc.; J.C. Penney Life Insurance Company; J.C. Penney Mexico, Inc.; J.C. Penney Reinsurance Company; JCP Publications Corp.; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; McAfee, Inc.; Perot Systems Corporation; Rent-A-Center, Inc.; Research in Motion Corporation; Siemens Product Lifecycle Management Software, Inc.; Symantec Corporation; Wells Fargo & Company; and Yahoo!, Inc.