Uniloc Hits Apple's Messages with Patent Lawsuit

Apple's iMessage got attention beyond just the company's annual Worldwide Developer Conference this week because Uniloc filed a patent lawsuit alleging the platform infringes on four of its VoIP-related patents. The case was filed in Eastern Texas District Court, which seems appropriate since the court is a favorite for patent trolls.

Uniloc says Apple's iMessage technology infringes on its patentsUniloc says Apple's iMessage technology infringes on its patents

The lawsuit claimed patents 7,535,890, 8,995,433, 8,724,622 and 8,243,723 cover the voice recording and transmission feature in Messages, and that Apple isn't licensing the technology. Uniloc is asking the court for the usual unspecified damages, legal expense reimbursement, and other relief.

If you aren't familiar with Uniloc, that probably means you have better things to do with your time that keep up with serial patent trolls. But since we're all here, how about a quick rundown:

Uniloc is a patent holding company with a long list of deep pocket infringement cases against companies such as Activision, Microsoft, Rackspace, Symantec, and Sony. It also has a portfolio of demo-to-buy apps that were bundled with new PCs. The company was founded after Ric Richardson created and patented a copy protection technology in 1992.

The company ran afoul of the Android community earlier this month when one developer took to the Web to say he was being sued for uploading an app to the Google Play store. According to that lawsuit, Uniloc owns the idea of the Google Play store, and as such developers need to pay up. The defendant in the case, Austin Meyer, posted a video on YouTube talking about the multi-year lawsuit and the many developers Uniloc is targeting.

The company's website is devoid of any information with only a logo and login button, so don't expect to learn more about their products or patents there.

Regardless of whether or not Uniloc's VoIP patents are valid, or if it actually owns the idea of the Google Play store, the company's legal practices feel very patent troll-like. The company files its lawsuits in the patent troll-friendly Federal court in eastern Texas, it target long lists of companies with its lawsuits, and also targets groups of smaller developers who likely don't have the resources to defend themselves.

If that sounds familiar, its because App Store developers faced a similar tactic a few years ago when Lodsys targeted several with infringement lawsuits over in-app purchases.

For smaller companies, these patent infringement lawsuits are akin to extortion, and for larger companies its often easier and cheaper to settle out of court regardless of the patent's validity. Considering Apple's stance on dealing with companies it considers to be patent trolls, however, Uniloc should expect this fight to be long and expensive.

Apple revealed earlier this week that Messages is its most used app, and has loads of new features coming when iOS 10 and macOS Sierra ship later this year. This is a product Apple will likely defend with the fill force of its legal team—and if the patent troll-friendly Texas court rules in Uniloc's favor, get ready for a long and expensive string of appeals.