Report: Apple’s Strange Relationship with Patent Troll That Targets its Competition

According to this Ars Technica report, Apple has allied itself with a known patent troll to take out its enemies. The company has had some covert dealings with Digitude Innovations, a company that enjoys being paid in patents so it can beat the hell out of companies in court.

Digitude launched one of its first legal attacks earlier this month against some of the biggest mobile hardware players in the world including Nokia, RIM, Motorola, HTC, LG, Samsung, Sony, and even Amazon. The company filed a patent infringement claim with the International Trade Commission. Apple was not on that list, of course. Apple owned two of the patents that are being used in the legal action as recently as November.

The iOS device maker recently transferred ownership of a dozen patents to a shell company called Cliff Island LLC, which shares a New York office with the investment firm Altitude Capital Partners. That company was founded by Altitude investor Robert Kramer, who also owns a big chunk of Digitude.

Altitude has funded efforts in the past to win settlements from Microsoft, RIM, and eBay over patent disputes. Earlier this year, Kramer put up a whopping $50 million of Altitude's funds to found Digitude. The money helped the company get over 500 "consumer electronics patents" for licensing and litigation.

"Our goal is to generate great returns for our investors," Kramer told Forbes in June. "We have reached out to many of our prospective customers to encourage them to become early strategic licensees."

According to Ars, Digitude makes deals with licensees for blanket access to its patent portfolio. Digitude prefers payment in patents instead of money so that it can either garner new licensees or sue them in court.

In April Digitude said that it had signed its first strategic deal with "one of the world's leading consumer electronics companies." It did not mention Apple specifically, but the dozen patents Apple turned over to Cliff Island were acquired in April of this year from Mitsubishi. These patents relate to "mobile communications devices" or "mobile terminals."

Those patents were transferred to Cliff Island in late November, with the two patents involved in an ITC dispute being transferred to Digitude the following day. Days after the transfer Digitude filed a complaint with the ITC. Further proof of a relationship between Apple and Digitude is a confidential license agreement involving both companies that was filed as evidence in the ITC case.

While its unknown just how deep of a relationship the two companies have at this point, Electronic Frontier Foundation staff attorney Julie Samuels told TechCrunch that "it would be horrifying" if this story is true. Samuels also doubts that there was any coercion aimed at Apple either because the company is quite comfortable suing when it needs to. When you are as big as Apple you always have options.

Source: Ars Technica

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  1. 0
    Hevach says:

    Though they are generally against them, a lot of them still own them in huge numbers to protect themselves from patent trolls. IBM started soaking up all the Unix related patents it could during the SCO mess to keep them from finding their way into SCO's hands and spawning more expensive litigation.

    The legitimate big boys aren't above patent trolling themselves. They've been on the victim's end lately, but in the 90's most of them loved them some software patent lawsuits. Apple and Microsoft kept going back and forth with software patents over CD drive features they both used – autoplay, music play, insert detection, software eject, auto eject, boot-from-CD… I don't even remember who sued who on most of them anymore.

  2. 0
    MechaTama31 says:

    Come on, Apple.  You can do quite well for yourself simply by continuing to exploit your inexplicably fanatical legion of iTools.  No need to try to trash your competition with this kind of shady bullshit.

  3. 0
    hellfire7885 says:

    SO basically Apple is being anti-competitive again, much to the surprise of no one I suppose. They do seem pretty determined to make sure you can't take your money elsewhere.

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