Apple guilty in iPhone ringtone patent rip-off battle with Sony, Nokia

Cupertino giant told to cough up equivalent of a rounding error on its financial sheets

Apple has been found guilty of patent infringement and told to pay $3m in damages.

A jury in Delaware decided that the electronics giants did infringe a patent from MobileMedia Ideas – a holding company owned by Sony and Nokia – that covered the sound the iPhone makes when there is an incoming phone call.

The decision brings to a close a long-running case that began in 2010 – when the latest model was the iPhone 4 – and led to a first decision against Apple in 2012.

MobileMedia initially claimed that Apple had infringed on no less than 16 of its patents. It reduced that number down to four, covering the phone's camera, call handling, call rejection and call alerts for the first verdict.

Apple appealed, and in 2015 an appeals court found for the company on three of the patents but sent back the fourth patent to be reviewed by the courts.

That led to another trial in which Apple argued [PDF] that the telephone ring patent was invalid because it was too vague. MobileMedia did not agree [PDF]. On Wednesday, after a full day of deliberation and following a week-long trial, the jury in that trial agreed with MobileMedia and found Apple guilty.

It's not known if Apple will appeal yet again, but in what may be a related matter, MobileMedia agreed late last month to drop yet more patent infringement claims against Apple, this time covering location detection in iPhones and iPads.

One thing is clear: the six-year court battle has cost both sides in lawyers' fees many times what any final judgment will be. ®


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