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Apple Battles Over Smartphone Patent

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    NBC 5 News

    Apple faces a new patent infringement trial, this time from a man who claims he holds the 1997 patent to the modern-day smartphone.

    NetAirus Technologies, owned by Richard Ditzik, filed a patent application in 1997 for what was then known as a "handheld device that combines computer and wireless-communications functions over both a local-area network and a wide-area network," according to Bloomberg News.

    The lawsuit, filed in 2010, is now being taken to trial with jury selection starting Tuesday in Los Angeles federal court. 

    Apple denies the allegations and said that smartphone technology existed long before Ditzik's patent. In fact, Apple said in court documents that its Newton MessagePad (remember that?) performed the same functions as the patent filing in 1994.

    “The technology at issue was so well known at the time NetAirus filed its patent, that independent patent watchdogs have made NetAirus’s patent a poster child in the movement to limit the proliferation of facially invalid patents,” Apple wrote in July 2011, according to Bloomberg. Essentially, Apple is calling Ditzik a patent troll.

    The legal battle has been brewing for a while, with one judge denying NetAirus's desire to amend its claim to include new Apple products and Apple getting a ruling the inventor can't seek damages prior to Oct. 8, 2012.

    NetAirus filed a new lawsuit in May for patent infringement on the iPad and later iPhones. So far, an expert has requested $3 a unit for each patent claim and Ditzi wanted a 3 to 5 percent royalty -- but both testimonies were excluded from the record mainly because the judge deemed the numbers and royalties were taken from anecdotal online reports.

    Normally we would think such a complaint had no merit, but that the lawsuit is reaching trial makes us think that NetAirus may have some legal standing or a great legal team. If so, we wonder how long it will be before Apple offers a settlement rather than commit to an expensive legal battle.