Could the iPhone lose FaceTime and iMessage?

Could the iPhone lose Facetime and iMessage?
Credit: wikimedia

A patent troll wants a federal judge to permanently turn off those features, while Apple wants the case retried

Back in February, Apple took a big hit when it lost to patent troll VirnetX to the tune of $626 million for supposedly violating four patents related to Apple's messaging technology. Now, VirnetX wants more money and for a federal judge to permanently turn off those features. 

VirnetX has been labeled a patent troll because it is a patent holding company and sells a single product, the Gabriel Security Platform, but has more than 80 patents. With just 14 employees in its Nevada office, the company makes most of its money by licensing patents to other firms and by suing businesses that it believes has infringed on its intellectual property. It has also sued Microsoft and Cisco.

In 2012, a jury found Apple guilty of violating four patents in its VPN on Demand, Facetime and iMessage technologies. Apple appealed and won on a technicality. A higher court sent the case back to the original court in East Texas, that paradise for patent trolls, and VirnetX won again last February.

In addition to asking for another $190 million, VirnetX wants those services blocked because of "lost sales and reputational harm caused by Apple's distribution of the infringing features."

Apple wants a retrial

Apple wants a retrial, claiming VirnetX's lawyers misrepresented evidence to the jury and that the evidence presented at trial didn't support infringement. It also said it also should not have to pay royalties, Law360 reports (subscription required).

According to Law360, Apple argued that VirnetX is improperly trying to secure an overly broad injunction so that it can be used to extract a massive licensing fee. Apple's legal documents are sealed, but VirnetX's post-trial demands are open records.

U.S. District Judge Robert Schroeder did not rule on the VirnetX request but said he would "get orders out as quickly as possible," according to the minutes of the hearing.

East Texas has become a haven for companies like VirnetX because it pushes cases through quickly, which is seen as an incentive to settle, and because the juries tend to favor plaintiffs, as they did in the VirnetX case. Also, the court system is not the friendliest, as the EFF has noted, and it makes cases difficult to pursue. Because it tilts things in favor of plaintiffs, one quarter of all patent infringement suits in this country are filed in East Texas.

So, Apple is in a tough spot. It's in a district that favors the plaintiff—even if the plaintiff is an obvious patent troll—it's already lost twice, and now could have two popular iPhone features shut off by a Texas judge.

What a great legal system we have.

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