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Lawsuit accuses Apple's iMessages of violating 2002 point-of-sale patent

A new patent infringement lawsuit accuses Apple and its iMessage service of violating a 15-year-old patent — one related to the recording and playback of voice messages over a network.

A lawsuit filed at the Texas Eastern District Court from Seatoun Media claims Apple is infringing on a 2002 patent for part of a point-of-sale system, relating to the recording and playback of voice messages over a network.

The complaint from Seatoun Media centers around a patent entitled "Point to point voice message processor, method and recording/playback device," which describes a "voice message processor" that can pass messages between users of the POS system. An illustration included as part of the patent depicts a phone-like device that forms part of the POS terminal, for recording and message playback, with a "communication link" to transfer the messages between locations, such as between a checkout and a stock room or over a public network to a remote terminal.

The complaint alleges multiple claims of the patent apply to a number of Apple products, highlighting those equipped with iMessage or able to be used with other messaging software to be infringing. The "non-limiting" list in the complaint includes the iPhone 4 and later models, iPads, the iPod touch, and iMessage itself.

One example of infringement given by Seatoun Media is that consumers are "induced to use their iPhone 6 with iMessage to record and play voice messages through a communications link." Apple is accused of indirectly infringing the patent by "inducing the direct infringement by consumers," simply by allowing voice messages to be sent.

The complaint notes Apple was originally informed of the alleged infringement in October last year, and that its "ongoing infringement is willful." Damages are requested by Seatoun for the infringement, at the "maximum rate permitted by law," as well as attorney's fees.

Apple has yet to respond to the complaint.

The filing through the Texas Eastern district court is unsurprising, as the jurisdiction has been the venue for many patent battles in the past for Apple, in suits against both major competitors and non-practicing entities. In September, Apple failed to defend itself against VirnetX in a patent infringement suit over virtual private networking, costing Apple $302.4 million.