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Apple sued over videophone patents

Apple, along with AT&T and US Cellular, has been hit with a patent infringement lawsuit by Visual Interactive Phone Concepts (VIPC). In its case against Apple, VIPC is asserting two patents, both of which are entitled “videophone interactive mailbox facility system and method of processing information,” according to a FOSS Patents report. The complaint states that Apple infringes on the patents due to its sales of “mobile communication devices that are videophones,” and also names the App Store—“an application service for users to view, download and use applications on their videophones”—the iTunes Store, and the iBookstore as infringing entities, because they include “a central data center that facilitates the order and delivery of [apps, entertainment content, books, PDF documents, etc.].” Apple is accused of “intentional and willful infringement,” which, as the report notes, would result in treble damages should the court agree.

Apple asked to require app privacy policies

Senator Al Franken has released a letter written to Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Google CEO Larry Page, in which he asks the companies to create privacy policies for all apps available on their respective mobile platforms. Franken, who recently headed a meeting of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law which representatives from both Apple and Google attended, asked the two companies “to require clear and understandable privacy policies for all of their apps.” As published by AppleInsider, the letter also states that “Apple and Google have each said time and again that they are committed to protecting users’ privacy. This is an easy opportunity for your companies to put that commitment into action.”

Franken continued, “Although I believe there is a greater need for transparency and disclosure for the collection and sharing of all personal information, at a minimum, I ask that you require all location-aware applications in your app stores to provide privacy policies that clearly specify what kind of information is being gathered from users, how that information is used, and how it is shared with third parties. These apps constitute only a subset of all of the apps available on your stores.” Privacy on mobile devices, and on Apple’s in particular, became a hot topic in recent weeks following a report claiming that iOS 4 devices were regularly recording their positions to hidden files, leading to charges of secret location tracking against Apple, and prompting the company to post a Q&A document discussing the collection of location data on iOS devices.

Apple nearing cloud deals with music publishers

Apple is closing in on deals which would give it the music publishing rights necessary to launch its anticipated cloud music service, according to a new report. Citing two sources with knowledge of the talks, Cnet reports that negotiations between Apple and music publishers began in earnest recently, but that the amount of money separating the two sides is relatively small. Despite the seemingly small monetary gap between the two, the report notes that cloud services are new, and thus there is no precedent for how to license them. On the label side, Apple has reportedly signed license agreements with EMI Music, Warner Music, and Sony Music; a deal with Universal Music, the final holdout of the largest four labels, could come as soon as this week, according to the report.

Apple to Lodsys: Developers are protected by our licenses

Apple has sent a letter to Lodsys, in which it states that iOS application developers are protected from any infringement claims thanks to Apple’s patent licenses. “Apple is undisputedly licensed to these patent and the Apple App Makers are protected by that license. There is no basis for Lodsys’ infringement allegations against Apple’s App Makers,” wrote Apple General Counsel Bruce Sewell in a letter obtained by iLounge. Lodsys recently sent claims of patent infringement over the use of in-app purchasing within iOS applications to a variety of small iOS developers, threatening legal action within three weeks should the developers fail to license the company’s patents.

“[T]he technology that is targeted in your notice letters is technology that Apple is expressly licensed under the Lodsys patents to offer to Apple’s App Makers,” Sewell concludes. “These licensed products and services enable Apple’s App Makers to communicate with end users through the use of Apple’s own licensed hardware, software, APIs, memory, servers, and interfaces, including Apple’s App Store. Because Apple is licensed under Lodsys’ patents to offer such technology to its App Makers, the App Makers are entitled to use this technology free from any infringement claims by Lodsys.” The full text of Sewell’s letter is available below.

Apple updates retail stores with iPads, new app features

Apple over the weekend launched a significant revamp of its retail stores, replacing its paper-based information graphics with iPads. As noted by ifoAppleStore, there is now one iPad next to each major product in the stores, including Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, and the iPod touch, while smaller iPod models are mounted in groups with a single iPad. The iPads, which are mounted semi-permanently in clear acrylic, are running interactive software that can take customers through each product’s main features, and features a Specialist button that allows customers to request assistance, with an indication of where the customer is the queue of other people waiting.

In addition to the changes made at the retail stores, Apple also released version 1.3 of its Apple Store app for iOS. The update offers the ability to custom-configure a new Mac, and new in-store features that allow customers to request assistance from a Specialist, check on Genius Bar wait times and make appointments, and see when the next workshop is scheduled. The Apple Store app for iOS is available now as a free download from the App Store.

Apple signs Sony to cloud music deal

Apple has now reached a cloud-based music licensing agreement with Sony Music Group, giving it deals with three of the four largest labels, according to a Bloomberg report. Citing people with knowledge of the deals, the report reiterates that the service will allow users to store content on Apple’s servers and access it via the Internet rather than storing it locally on a device. An Apple patent application discovered yesterday shows one implementation of how such a service could work. The report goes on to state that Apple is close to a deal with Universal Music Group, and that separate agreements with music publishers would also be necessary, as they control different rights than the labels.

Apple patents time-, space-saving streaming media buffer

A newly published Apple patent application suggests that the company may be planning to use small, locally-stored clips of media items stored in the cloud as an on-device buffer. Such a setup would allow for reduced media footprints on devices such as the iPod and iPhone, as only a short portion of each song or video—think an iTunes preview clip—would be stored locally, in order to give the device an opportunity to grab the rest of the item while reducing the possibility of playback pauses as media is retrieved from a server.

Entitled “Local Storage of a Portion of Streamed Media Items,” the patent describes “locally storing one or more clips corresponding to a media item such that the clips can be immediately played back in response to a user request to play back the media item. While the clips are played back, the electronic device can retrieve the remaining segments of the media item from the user’s media library as a media stream over a communications network. Once the playback of the clip is complete, the electronic device can seamlessly switch playback to the media stream received from the user’s library.” Notably, one of the images included with the patent shows an iTunes synchronization settings screen, in which an iPhone is set to “Sync partial music,” with a “Minimum Connection Speed” of 3G. As with all Apple patents, this application does not necessarily represent any future product release from Apple, but offers evidence of the company’s research in this area. [via AppleInsider]

Apple signs cloud deal with EMI, final two deals near

Apple has signed a cloud-based music licensing agreement with EMI music and is close to securing deals with the remaining “big four” labels, according to a new report. Citing multiple music industry sources, Cnet reports that EMI, along with Warner Music Group, have signed agreements with Apple, while similar deals with Sony Music Group and Universal Music Group are nearing completion. The report states that negotiations with the latter two labels could be wrapped up as early as next week, giving Apple contracts with all four of the top labels heading into WWDC, where many expect the company to announce its cloud-based offering. Apple’s approach differs from that of rivals Amazon and Google, both of which have launched cloud-based music services without the support of the labels; the report claims that the labels’ agreements with Apple may allow it to offer features that Amazon and Google lack.

Apple pushing for smaller SIM standard

Apple has proposed a new SIM card standard smaller than the micro SIMs found in the iPhone 4 and iPad, according to Reuters. “We were quite happy to see last week that Apple has submitted a new requirement to (European telecoms standards body) ETSI for a smaller SIM form factor—smaller than the one that goes in iPhone 4 and iPad,” Anne Bouverot, Orange’s head of mobile services, told the news agency. “They have done that through the standardisation route, through ETSI, with the sponsorship of some major mobile operators, Orange being one of them.” Bouverot added that the standardization process would take time and that the first devices to use the new standard could emerge next year.

Apple job posting points to Sprint iPhone?

A new Apple job posting suggests that the company may be planning to offer a version of the iPhone on Sprint. Stop it, AT&T reports on a new job posting for a Carrier Engineer based in Kansas City, MO, who would be part of a team “that supports taking products through technical approval at the carriers.” As noted in the report, Sprint’s headquarters in in Overland Park, KS, a suburb of Kansas City. Interestingly, the posting in question has since been changed to list Cupertino as the job location; it is possible, although unlikely, that Kansas City was listed by mistake. [via Mac Rumors]

Apple schedules retail meetings, related to 10th anniversary?

Apple has made a number of retail store plans for this weekend, suggesting the company may be planning a special event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its retail stores. Boy Genius Report, citing an unnamed but “solid” Apple source, claims that Apple has scheduled an overnight shift for 10-15 individuals at each Apple Store, with employees expected to work from late Saturday through mid-Sunday. During the overnight shift, employees will be required to lock their cell phones in the main office, and sign an Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with Apple. According to the report, the overnight shift will include all visuals staff, a manager, a business team manager, some Genius team members, a back-of-house employee, and a few Apple specialists.

The report goes on to claim that stores have already received hardware to install, which is to be under lock and key until after close on Saturday night, and are expecting more to arrive Friday or Saturday. Employees have reportedly already downloaded gigabytes of data from Apple corporate labeled “training” in a password-protected folder that isn’t accessible until Saturday afternoon, and will be hanging black curtains in store windows to prevent onlookers from peeking inside; finally, all Apple Stores will reportedly have mandatory meetings on Sunday, May 22, with most meetings scheduled for the morning. Notably, the 10th anniversary of the opening of Apple’s first retail stores in Tysons Corner, VA and Glendale, CA falls on this Thursday, May 19, meaning that any event, promotion, or product introduction related to the retail meetings would seemingly come well after the anniversary itself.

More companies join opposition to ‘App Store’ trademark

Microsoft and Nokia have joined the opposition to Apple’s “App Store” trademark claim in Europe. Macworld UK reports that both Sony Ericsson and HTC have joined the effort to block the trademark claim, which the companies claim is too generic, and should be available for any company to use for stores that sell applications. “Both terms lack distinctiveness and so the registrations should not have been granted,” said a Nokia spokeswoman. According to the report, the move to block Apple’s trademarks in Europe was started by Amazon last month; Microsoft is also trying to block Apple’s “App Store” trademark request in the U.S., while Apple has filed suit against Amazon in the U.S. over its use of the term.

iOS devs threatened over in-app purchase patent claims

TUAW reports that several iOS developers have received claims of patent infringement over in-app purchasing within iOS applications, all apparently from the company Lodsys. James Thomson, UK-based developer of the popular PCalc calculator apps sent out a tweet earlier this morning stating that he had just received a package of legal papers via FedEx advising him that he is infringing a company’s patent and has 21 days to license it. Thomson also noted that his latest update to PCalc Lite was approved by Apple this morning, but that he has decided to delay the release to avoid the potential of “hurt[ing] any future case.”

Patrick McCarron of Chicago-based iOS developer MobileAge also confirmed via Twitter that he had received a similar patent threat via FedEx for in-app purchase use, most likely from the same company, although both developers have declined to disclose the other party involved in the complaint. Both have contacted Apple Legal for further guidance as the infringement claim concerns the use of Apple’s in-app purchase technology built into the iOS operating system rather than any specific feature that has been created by the developers themselves.

An additional report from Mac Rumors reveals that Rob Gloess of Computer LogicX has also received a legal complaint regarding the use of an “Upgrade” button in the lite version of his application Mix & Mash, providing users with a link to the full version in the App Store. The documents that Gloess received make the claim that the “button that users click on to upgrade the app was in breach of US patent no 7222078.” Mac Rumors reveals that the patent in question was filed in 2003 and is connected to patent holding firm Lodsys, which purchased the patents from the original holder in 2004 and has been revealed as the company issuing lawsuit threads in the Computer LogicX case. 

Update: Lodsys also launched a patent infringement suit earlier this year against Brother, Canon, HP, Hulu, Lenovo, Lexmark, Motorola, Novell, Samsung, and Trend Micro alleging infringement of the same patent 7,222,078, “Methods and Systems for Gathering Information from Units of a Commodity Across a Network” among several others. Several companies named in the earlier suit have recently responded stating that the Lodsys “patents and invalid and unenforceable.”

ITC rules in favor of Kodak in Apple patent dispute

A U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) judge has ruled that Eastman Kodak did not infringe on Apple’s patented technology for digital cameras. Reuters reports that the full ITC will need to either uphold or reject the ruling; a decision is due on September 19. A ruling in Kodak’s case against Apple and BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion, in which it claims that companies infringed on a patent for putting cameras in mobile phones, is expected on May 23. The report notes that Kodak settled similar patent disputes with LG and Samsung in 2009 and 2010, receiving $400 million and $550 million, respectively, from the companies to secure licenses for its technology.

Apple in talks with Nuance over iOS 5 voice tech?

Apple is reportedly in talks with Nuance Communications over the use of its voice recognition services in iOS 5. Citing multiple anonymous sources, TechCrunch reports that Apple has been in talks with Nuance for months, possibly over an acquisition, but more likely over a far-reaching licensing agreement and or partnership. As noted in the report, Siri, the voice-based personal assistance and search service acquired by Apple in April 2010, relies on Nuance technology for its services; Siri technology is said to play a large role in iOS 5, and the report claims that Apple has yet to successfully renegotiate the original deal between Siri and Nuance. The report cites Nuance’s $6 billion market cap as a major obstacle in any acquisition talks, as much of this value comes from the company’s various licensing deals, many of which could potentially dry up should Apple take control of the company. Nuance also develops a number of iOS apps, which it sells under its Dragon brand.

Update: According to a second report from TechCrunch, Apple has reached a deal with Nuance that will allow it to run and build upon Nuance’s software at its new data center in North Carolina. The deal will enable Apple to process voice information for iOS users more quickly, and prevent such data from going through third-party servers.

Apple, others sued over anti-poaching agreements

Apple was among a group of companies sued earlier this week over so-called “anti-poaching” agreements. The law firm of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein announced that Apple, along with Adobe, Google, Intel, Intuit, Lucasfilm, and Pixar, has been named in a class action lawsuit filed by former Lucasfilm engineer Siddharth Hariharan, claiming that the companies violated antitrust laws by conspiring to fix the pay of their employees and entering into “No Solicitation” agreements with each other. As noted in the announcement, an agreement between Lucasfilm and Pixar surfaced in 2005, and were soon joined by similar agreements between the other defendants; the U.S. Department of Justice finalized a settlement in September 2010 that barred Adobe, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar for participating in such agreements. The suit seeks restitution for lost compensation and treble damages for anti-competitive employment practices. [via Mac Rumors]

Apple hires Lucasfilm vet, THX creator Holman?

Apple has hired Tomlinson Holman, former corporate technical director for Lucasfilm, according to a new report. Citing a tweet from tech pundit Leo Laporte, GigaOM reports that Laporte has it “on good authority” that Holman is joining Apple to “run audio.” Currently a film professor at USC, Holman is considered the primary mind behind Lucasfilm’s THX sound technology and the world’s first 10.2 surround sound system, and has received an Academy Award for Technical Achievement for his contributions. According to the report, Holman also has experience designing loudspeakers and amplifiers; it is unclear what projects Holman might be involved in at Apple, or what his official title might be.

Apple releases iOS 4.3.3, fixes location bug

Apple has released iOS 4.3.3, the latest version of its mobile operating system for the iPad, iPad 2, iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4 (GSM), iPod touch 3G, and iPod touch 4G. According to Apple’s release notes, the update contains changes to the iOS crowd-sourced location database cache; the update reduces the size of the cache, no longer backs up the cache to iTunes, and deletes the cache entirely when Location Services is turned off. The database in question was the cause of a recent uproar over Apple’s supposed location tracking, leading the company to release a Q&A document in which it gave an explanation for the cache, and blamed its large size on a “bug.” iOS 4.3.3 is available now via the Update feature in iTunes; a similar update, iOS 4.2.8, is also available for the CDMA iPhone 4.

Apple airs new iPad 2 spot ‘If You Asked’

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Apple has begun airing its latest TV advertisement for the iPad 2. Entitled “If You Asked,” the 30-second spot shows iPad 2 units in a variety of settings with task-specific apps, while the narrator states, “If you ask a parent, they might call it intuitive. If you ask a musician, they might call it inspiring. To a doctor, it’s groundbreaking. To a CEO, it’s powerful. To a teacher, it’s the future. If you ask a child, she might call it magic. And if you asked us, we’d say it’s just getting started.” The new commercial is now available for viewing on Apple’s website.

Apple bans promo code-incentivized app ratings and reviews

Apple has reportedly made a change in its App Store app review policies preventing reviews or ratings of applications downloaded using promotional codes. Mac Rumors reports that the change has been made to “prevent comprimising [sic] of the rating system,” presumably by developers providing promo codes in exchange for positive reviews and high ratings of their applications. It remains unclear whether this new policy affects all promo codes and countries or only those issued since the new policy came into effect.

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