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Apple accused of stealing noise cancellation technology

Noise Free Wireless has filed suit against Apple with allegations that the iPhone maker used proprietary information from joint meetings to develop its own noise reduction technology with a different company.

The complaint was filed last week by Noise Free and discovered by IDG News Service. The plaintiff is accusing Apple and its partner Audience of patent infringement, misappropriation of secrets, breach of contract and violation of a California statute on unfair competition.

Noise Free filed for a patent (US Patent No. 7742790) on a noise reduction and cancellation invention in 2007. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted the patent in June 2010.

According to the company's court filing, which was posted by MacNN, Noise Free approached Apple with a presentation detailing its new technology in September 2007. It proposed that its noise reduction system be implemented in the then-fledgeling iPhone. The two companies agreed to hold shared information confidential and continued meeting throughout 2008.

Noise Free claims that it provided Apple with highly confidential items, including a user guide, fully operational circuit board, fully operational phone mockup and documentation for the technology in late 2008.

Drawing of Noise Free noise cancellation patent. Source: Google Patents

"At one point, Apple's head of mobile phones and tablets was called into the meeting to learn about Noise Free's technology," the filing read.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company went on to allege that Apple "performed a series of unauthorized tests on Noise Free's hardware, improperly extracted Noise Free's proprietary and confidential object code" and then replicated the technology on its own.

The complaint also claimed that Apple failed to return documentation and a user guide for the Noise Free hardware when it was requested "in or around early 2009."

Apple reportedly "ceased communication" with Noise Free in 2009, before resuming discussions in 2010, according to the filing. In June 2010, a month after a meeting between Noise Free and Apple, Apple filed a patent application for "User-specific noise suppression for voice quality improvements." The listed inventors of the patent were allegedly "involved in and/or present at Noise Free's presentations" to Apple.

Noise Free and Apple were said to have continued meeting through the summer of 2010 until Noise Free learned that Apple had chosen rival Audience to supply noise cancellation chipsets and software.

"On further information and belief, Apple provided Audience with Noise Free's confidential trade secret information to assist Audience in delivering a noise cancellation solution that was similar and/or identical to the solution that Noise Free designed," the suit alleged.

The complaint claims that Apple's iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, the three generations of iPad and other products infringe the '790 patent. Noise Free also seeks "exemplary or punitive damages" against Apple and Audience for the alleged misappropriation of its trade secrets. The company also asks the court to grant it any patents that would come from Apple's own patent application for noise cancellation technology.