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Texas touchpad trouble

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Apple, LG, Microsoft, and 20 other companies are being sued for patent infringement by a Texas firm that claims to have invented the touchpad.

Tsera LLC, a Texas business that's apparently named after a defunct Native American tribe, filed the suit on Wednesday in the US District Court, Eastern Texas Division.

According to the complaint, Tsera claims to own "all right, title and interest in" a patent for "Methods and apparatus for controlling a portable electronic device using a touchpad," granted to one Chuang Li in 2003 after being filed in 1999.

The complaint claims patent infringement due to the touchpad controls of Apple's iPod classic and nano, LG's Chocolate VX8500, Microsoft's Zune, and a host of other products ranging from TrekStore's i.Beat p!nk to a Jensen digital media player with the catchy name of SMPV-4GBTA.

The patent's wording, however, seems to imply a somewhat weak case by Tsera, which has no web presence. It describes a touchpad that interprets commands made by detecting the patterns of strokes made by a user upon it, with each of several patterns corresponding to "a predefined function or command of the device." Moreover, it says "No immediate visual feedback is provided as a command pattern is traced, and the user does not need to view the device to enter commands."

Doesn't sound like an iPod to us.

But of the 23 defendants, only Apple is singled out for special censure. The complaint states that Apple knew of the patent since September of 2004 and that their infringement "has been and continues to be willful, wanton, and deliberate, and carried out with full knowledge and awareness of the Plaintiff’s patent rights and without license from Plaintiff."

Due to the "deliberate and willful nature of [Apple's] infringement," the suit seeks "enhanced damages, up to treble damages" from Cupertino, while the other infringers are on the hook only for standard damages. The suit also seeks to require all defendants to "pay a compulsory future royalty" for the privilege of using touchpads in their devices.

The suit requests a jury trial - juries are seldom reticent to award large damages in David versus Goliath lawsuits. Especially when it's a home-town David versus 20 Goliaths. ®

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