Apple, Sprint, Samsung, Verizon accused of false patent marking

The Americans for Fair Patent Use (AFPU) organisation has filed suit against Apple, Sprint Nextel, Verizon and Samsung Telecomms and accused the companies of false patent marking.

The case, filed in a district court in Texas yesterday, alleges that the companies accused have falsely market numerous products with expired patents or patents that do not cover the market products with the intent to deceive the public.

The case has been brought under the False Marking Statute (35 USC § 292(a). The filing explains that the statute exists to give people notice of patent rights, with Congress passing the act to easily discover the status of intellectual property in an article or a design. Congress allows members of the public to sue on behalf of the government.

AFPU wants monetary damages of $500 for each of the alleged violations of the statue, half of which will be paid to the US. AFPU said it was established to “encourage the fair use of the patent system and deter abuse of the patent system, which harms the public welfare and stifles competition”.

It alleges that the defendants false marking are examples of such harmful conduct.

The counts against the defendants have a similar thrust. For example, “Apple has, or regularly retains sophisticated legal counsel. Their legal counsel includes both internal lawyers and external lawyers. On information and belief, Apple has a large internal legal department with numerous patent lawyers.

“Apple regularly files patent applications and is currently pursuing thousands of patent applications around the world. Apple has a patent portfolio of several thousand issued patents in the United States and worldwide.

“Apple was sued 27 times during the 2009 fiscal year for patent infringement, and of the end of the 2009 fiscal year, Apple was defending against 47 patent infringement claims.

“On information and belief, Apple knows that patents expire and an expired patent cannot protect any product from competition. On information and belief, Apple is aware of the False Marking Statute and that intentionally marking products with an expired patent is a violation of that statute.”

The filing goes on to discuss examples of false marking by each of the defendants. In Apple’s case, it’s alleged to have marked user manuals, guides or product information guides which accompanied a number of its products with expired patent numbers.

AFPU wants a jury to decide whether the defendants breached the statute in question.