Apple lawyer turned patent traitor

It appears Apple is being patent trolled by one of its own laywers.

We say “appears” because that is one of the bigger bones of contention about the Apple versus FlatWorld Interactives case.

On the face of it FlatWorld was just another patent troll but the court documents showed it to be very different.

FlatWorld is partly owned by the named inventor on the patents, a Philadelphia design professor named Slavko Milekic, but more than a third of the company is controlled by a lawyer of one of Apple’s law firms, Morgan, Lewis and Bockius.

John McAleese, the lawyer, worked together with his wife Jennifer and began planning a wide-ranging patent attack against Apple’s touch screen products in January 2007.

Jennifer contacted “troll patent” companies, as she called them, convinced that she and Milekic had an “excellent position against Apple”.   These patent trollers included Google and Nokia.

According to emails between the McAleese, which Apple has acquired, it would appear that she was advised by her husband, a lawyer who had access to reams of confidential Apple data.

Apple wants FlatWorld’s law firm, Seattle-based Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, kicked off the case.

Needless to say John McAleese is no longer working for Morgan Lewis and Bockius.

That is the way that Apple wants it, however it is not that cut and dried. McAleese was an environmental law litigator who didn’t specialise in patents. So it might be that this is just a legal move for Cupertino to protect itself against what could be a very damaging law suit.

FlatWorld Interactives sued Apple in April 2012, naming just about every gadget in Apple’s arsenal as a product that infringed its two related patents.

The patents are said to cover swiping gestures on a touch screen and, yes, it has sued LG Electronics and Samsung too.

Apple did not know John McAleese’s connection to FlatWorld until February. It twigged when FlatWorld’s founder listed all the e-mails between the company’s founder and the various lawyers he communicated with about possibly filing the suit together. McAleese was high on the list.

Morgan Lewis appeared happy to save its relationship with a premier client and dished all it had on their soon to be former employee.

Instead of focusing on the patent evidence, it seems that Apple is trying to use McAleese’s connection to Morgan Lewis to halt the FlatWorld case, at least until FlatWorld gets new lawyers.

Ars Technica believes the case to be interesting because it creates a lot of questions for Silicon Valley businesses.

Morgan Lewis knew the lawsuit was coming before it was filed and didn’t seem to see an ethical problem in letting one of its partners invest in a patent troll.

Other big-firm lawyers might also be entwined with “start-ups” that are actually holding companies, created to attack the corporations they are supposed to be defending.

Ars claims that after seeing the iPhone, the McAleeses worked with Milekic to file a follow-up patent application in mid-2007. The goal of that “reissue” application, Jennifer McAleese later stated in an email, was to “tailor it more closely to iPhone claims”.  They appear to have launched their case after the patent office granted them their reissue.