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Apple's Success Brings More Patent Lawsuits

During the first four months of 2008, Apple was named as a defendant in eight patent infringement lawsuits, up from five during the same period in 2007.

Apple's rise in sales has been accompanied by an increase in patent infringement lawsuits.

During the first four months of 2008, Apple was named as a defendant in eight patent infringement lawsuits, up from five during the same period in 2007. Only one such lawsuit was filed during the first four months of 2006, on behalf of Burst.com. Apple settled that lawsuit for $10 million last November. The first four months of 2005 also brought just one patent lawsuit against Apple. In 2004, three patent lawsuits were filed against Apple from January through the end of April.

In the latest such suit, Apple last week was sued for alleged patent infringement in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Michigan.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of inventor Henry Milan by Detroit-based law firm Butzel Long, claims that Apple's iPod Nano and iPod Touch use Flash memory in a way that violates U.S. patent No. 6,991,483.

The patent in question, "Flash memory drive with quick connector," describes the union of a Flash memory drive and a connection port in a single unit that can be easily adapted to connect to a varied set of devices.

The patent application was filed on Nov, 12, 2004, and the patent was issued Jan. 31, 2006. Apple introduced its iPod Nano on Sept. 7, 2005.

On Dec. 20, 2007, Butzel Long attorney J. Michael Huget wrote Apple to notify the company of the alleged infringement and offered to discuss licensing terms for Milan's patent. He said that if Apple failed to respond by Jan. 10, 2008, he would assume that the company did not want to discuss licensing the patent.

In a phone interview, Huget said he hoped the lawsuit would encourage Apple to respond to his client's claim. "They've been very slow in responding," he said. He added that while the iPhone is not listed in the initial complaint, it's possible that the suit could be expanded to cover the iPhone, which also relies on Flash memory and a connection port in a single unit.

The lawsuit seeks treble damages for willful infringement and an injunction against the sale of the iPod Nano and iPod Touch. However, Huget said the inclusion of that request in the initial filing didn't mean he would ultimately seek an injunction. It's not yet clear whether the case is strong enough to make an injunction against any of Apple's products a realistic possibility.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

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