Apple Beats 'Computer + Phone = Smartphone' Patent in Court

Apple in CourtApple won yet another patent battle on Monday after a jury found that Apple didn't violate a patent I like to characterize as the "computer plus a phone is pretty much the same thing as a smartphone" patent. The suit was brought by NetAirus Technologies LLC, a firm owned by the patent's inventor, Richard L. Ditzik.

The patent more specifically describes a device that combines computer functions and wireless communication functions over both a cellular and a Wi-Fi network. At first blush, that sounds a lot like a smartphone, but the original patent described a handset that used a laptop to make calls, a far cry from a handheld all-in-one device like the iPhone or other smartphones.

Bloomberg reported that the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict, and after several days of deliberations. Attorneys for both sides then agreed to accept a majority vote, and that vote was that Apple's iPhone didn't infringe on Mr. Ditzik's patent, which is owned by his company.

Part of the holdout amongst the six women and two men was juror George Escarrega, who told Bloomberg that he, "almost felt like we were failing in doing everything we could for the system and for the inventor,” adding that, "[there] was an aspect to the case that Apple was this giant crushing the little guy."

"Obviously, the giant has more resources than the little guy and the little guy needs somebody to fight for him," Mr. Escarrega said. "But it needs to be justified."

In the end, he said that when you looked at the patents and Apple's product—the iPhone 4, in this case—they didn't match. Mr. Escarrega did, however, vote in favor of NetAirus on two questions in front of the jury, while he voted for Apple on two more.

This is but one case between the two parties. Monday's trial was limited to the iPhone 4, and only for damages since October of 2012, when his patent was re-certified. Other suits have been filed over other iPhone models, as well as iPad.