Few companies have been involved in as many copyright infringement cases as Apple. But the Cupertino firm is now facing its unlikeliest and most ambitious lawsuits to date; a Florida man is suing the organization for $10 billion and a 1.5 percent cut of all future sales because he claims the iPhone, iPod, and iPad copied his 24-year-old design.
Thomas S. Ross produced three hand-drawn technical drawings of an “Electronic Reading Device” (ERD) between May 23, 1992 and September 10, 1992. It does, admittedly, contain some elements found in modern smartphones, such an internal hard drive and a back-lit touch display that allows users to “read stories, novels, news articles, as well as look at pictures, watch video presentations, or even movies.” He also imagined that it could be adapted to include telecommunications features.
There are, however, some unusual parts of the book-like device, such as the solar cells, two-part physical keyboard, and 3½-inch diskette drive.
Ross did file a patent for his ERD design in 1992, but the Patent and Trademark Office abandoned the application in 1995 because he never paid the fees. He later tried – and failed – to get the decision overturned by arguing in court that the required fees were unconstitutional.
In addition to the $10 billion Ross is demanding from Apple, his 1.5 percent slice of future sales would amount to around $3.5 billion a year.
"Instead of creating its own ideas, Apple chose to adopt a culture of dumpster diving as an R&D strategy," the lawsuit says.
With its physical keyboard, the design looks more like an old BlackBerry, but Ross probably realizes the big money comes from going after Apple.
The iPhone maker hasn’t commented on the case, but the chances that Ross will eventually become one of the richest people in the world are, let’s face it, pretty slim.