Mirror Worlds Technologies, which sold software called Scopeware from 2001 until its demise in 2004, on Thursday filed a patent infringement claim against Apple, Best Buy, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Microsoft and Samsung.
The lawsuit was filed in the Eastern District of Texas, a popular venue among patent litigants.
The patent at issue is one of the three patents cited in the 2008 case over U.S. Patent 6,006,227, "Document stream operating system."
Mirror Worlds' complaint objects to the defendants' use of "document stream software" -- software that presents files in a chronologically organized stack rather than the grid or list layout seen in OS X and Windows.
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This particular approach to file presentation, a distinguishing feature of Scopeware when it was available, can be seen in Apple's iTunes Cover Flow and its Time Machine backup system. Mirror World's 2008 complaint alleged that OS X features Cover Flow, Time Machine and Spotlight infringed its patents.
The law firm representing Mirror Worlds, Dovel & Luner, LLP, did not respond to a request for comment. Yale computer science professor David Gelernter, co-founder of Mirror Worlds, also did not reply to a request for comment.
"This is a very interesting turn of events and one that I didn't expect," said Eugene R. Quinn, Jr., a patent attorney with Zies, Widerman & Malek and founder of IP Watchdog, in an email. "In the initial litigation Mirror Worlds accused all Apple computers and servers that run certain Mac OS X operating systems of infringement. The complaint just filed similarly charges infringement by 'Mac computers and certain versions of Mac OS X.'"
Quinn said that while it's conceivable that Mirror Worlds may have an argument that Apple is engaged in infringement not addressed in the 2008 case, he wonders about the viability of the claim given its similarity to the previously adjudicated case.
"This type of serial litigation is not supposed to be able to happen and I would expect that Apple's first move will be to file a motion to dismiss arguing that these claims have already been fully and fairly litigated and resolved against Mirror Worlds," he said.
In 2010, a jury awarded Mirror Worlds $625 million in damages against Apple, but the judge overruled the verdict later that year, saying Mirror Worlds hadn't proven its claim. In 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that decision.
Mirror Worlds' latest claim comes just as Congress is moving to reform patent law, something technology companies have been advocating for years. Recently, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced the Patent Abuse Reduction Act of 2013 while Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., introduced the Patent Quality Improvement Act of 2013.
In addition, the America Invents Act, signed into law in 2011, took effect in March, shifting U.S. patent awards from a "first to invent" system to a "first to file" system.
Whether or not these changes make patent litigation less appealing remains to be seen. Patent litigation continues to be tremendously expensive and patent holding companies, referred to derisively as patent trolls, have taken advantage of the situation to threaten legal action, knowing that defendants are likely to settle, even if the infringement claim is weak, rather than risk financially ruinous litigation.
Deterring cynical attempts to coerce settlements could also have the effect of making it easier for large companies to run roughshod over poorly capitalized innovators.