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Apple sued in Texas troll territory for iMovie patent infringement

Plaintiff's lawyer: Representing inventors 'a noble cause' – but where's the inventor?

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Apple has been sued by a small Texas firm for patent infringement related to how it tags, stores, and assembles video content in its consumer-level video-editing app, iMovie.

The patent in question, US Patent No. 5,684,514, "Apparatus and method for assembling content addressable video," was filed in May 1994 and granted in November 1997 to San Francisco inventor Hill Branscomb. The suit was filed not by Branscomb, however, but by Patent Harbor, which Manta Media identifies as a two-person firm established in 2010, and located in Tyler, Texas.

Court documents, however, place Patent Harbor's place of business as being about 100 or so miles west of Tyler in Fort Worth – although Tyler would be a more convenient location, seeing as how the suit has been filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division, the site of many a lawsuit based on the ever-popular 35 U.S. Code § 271, which covers patent infringement.

In 2008, inventor Branscomb sold a slew of patents in a multi-million dollar deal to an unidentified buyer. Included in that portfolio were patents covering DVD scene selection – mentioned specifically in the Patent Harbor court filing.

Reuters also noted at the time that Branscomb's inventions "provide the means to automatically assemble video images and multimedia data into a practical presentation format."

US Patent No. 5,684,514 was not identified to be part of the 2008 sale, but Patent Harbor's court filing notes that "As of May 3, 2011, Patent Harbor entered into a license with a third party that sold DVD Recorders that Patent Harbor accused of infringing claim 1 of the ‘514 Patent" – one of the two claims that the lawsuit alleges that Apple infringes with iMovie.

Patent Harbor is being represented by four attorneys from Friedman, Suder & Cooke of Fort Worth, Texas, self-described as "a boutique law firm combining traditional values and cutting-edge legal solutions" that "aggressively protects the intellectual property rights of those who own them."

In a video, FSC founding partner Mike Cooke defends patent litigation as a way of defending the rights of inventors. "What we do is jump in the same boat with the inventor," he says. "We sort of hold hands together, and we both share the risk and share the reward.

"And that's one of the most rewarding things about this," Cooke says, "is to get to know these people who are very creative, who are innovators in our society – work with them and help them realize the value, the benefits of their dream, or their idea, their invention."

FSC cofounder Jonathan Suder goes a bit further, saying that there's "a noble cause to representing inventors," and speaks in defense of non-producing entities (NPEs), aka patent trolls. "There are legal rules, there are business rules that [an] inventor – most of them are engineers or just came up with something – don't appreciate ..." and that NPEs do.

NPEs are an inventor's friends, Suder suggests. But although we won't know more until the suit is discussed in open court or further documents are filed, it appears that Branscomb has already benefitted from his invention. Upon the sale of his patents in 2008 he told Reuters, "It is extremely gratifying to be recognized for the hard work and inventions captured by this portfolio."

If No. 5,684,514 was part of that portfolio, Patent Harbor and FSC aim to be those who now benefit from it, perhaps to recoup some of that multi-million dollar deal – not in the marketplace, but in the courtroom. ®

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