Apple Sued Over Digital Camera Patent

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Apple has been sued by St. Clair Intellectual Property Consultants over the digital camera used in the iPhone. St. Clair claims Apple is infringing on four of its patents and wants damages and a jury trial. The court documents, which were filed in Delaware, where Apple is incorporated, can be found online.

The company has a successful track record of defending those patents, according to The Loop: it sued Sony in 2001 and scored a US$25 million judgment, and in 2003 it sued Canon and won $34 million. It has also gone after many more companies – including Fuji, Kyocera, Minolta, Nikon, Samsung, HP, RIM, Palm, and others – and secured licensing agreements for its technology.

The law firm Morgan Lewis calls St. Clair a “patent troll" in a PDF presentation on its web site. The PDF notes: “St. Clair purchased patents from a group of inventors who failed to establish a camera company. The purchase price was less than $100K. St. Clair hired its lawyers on a contingency base [sic] and pays them about 35% of the money it receives.”

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But what do the patents actually cover? Neither the ‘online’ link nor the ‘according to the loop’ link actually say what the patents are for.

Brad Cook

Someone on the Loop article said:

459 ? take image contained within lens and store in some type of memory.

219 ? display the picture that will be taken in some type of display window.

010 ? one of the first ones, push button in order to capture image.

899 ? make images contained within some type of memory and make them viewable in some sort of digital camera roll.

They all sound so general that everyone making digital cameras will have to shell out bucks to St. Clair, if the company can continue to enforce those patents.


I saw that too but it sounded to me like he was being facetious.

Brad Cook



Those two cover this:

“An electronic still camera comprising a lens, shutter, and exposure control system, a focus and range control circuit, a solid state imaging device incorporating a Charge Coupled Device (CCD) through which an image is focused, a digital control unit through which timing and control of an image for electronic processing is accomplished, an Analog-to-Digital (A/D) converter circuit to convert the analog picture signals into their digital equivalents, a pixel buffer for collecting a complete row of an image’s digital equivalent, a frame buffer for collecting all rows of an image’s digital equivalent, and a selectively adjustable digital image compression and decompression algorithm that compresses the size of a digital image and selectively formats the compressed digital image to a compatible format for either the IBM Personal Computer and related architectures or the Apple Macintosh PC architecture as selected by the operator so that the digital image can be directly read into most word processing, desktop publishing, and data base software packages including means for executing the appropriate selected decompression algorithm; and a memory input/output interface that provides both temporary storage of the digital image and controls the transmission and interface with a standard Personal Computer (PC) memory storage device such as a digital diskette. The digital diskette is removably inserted into the housing of the camera prior to use in recording digital image data.”

Brad Cook

010: “A digital camera includes a digital memory system having a control unit for checking for proper format initialization of a removable digital memory element and for performing format initialization of the memory element when necessary”

899: A process for use in an electronic camera generates a digital image signal corresponding to an image incident on an image pick-up unit of the camera, formats the digital image signal in one of a plurality of computer image file formats and stores the formatted image file in a storage device of the camera.

So, yeah, he was being facetious, but that’s basically what they cover. Defenders of St. Clair are pointing out that this was all new technology when it was patented. But if that’s the case, why did it take so long to file all these lawsuits?

Brad Cook

PS: I linked to the patent office filings in the above posts.


Parasites! Pure and simple. When will this stuff end? Either patents are woefully easy to get or the courts are awfully liberal. How many times in the past six months have we seen Apple taken to court for similar infractions? Maybe Apple needs to do better research. I don’t know what.


The patent granting system is a joke. Too often patents are granted to obvious ideas and methods (please reference the patent granted for swinging on a swing sideways).


Considering the filing dates on some of the patents, there may be a “prior art” argument that they’re invalid, at least in part. The “899” patent was filed in 2000, but there were already digital cameras on the market by that time.

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