Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hybrid Audio LLC sues Apple, HTC and Dell over allegedly MP3-related patent

Yesterday I just reported on a patent infringement suit filed by Multimedia Patent Trust, an Alcatel-Lucent subsidiary, against Apple, LG, Canon and TiVo. The four patents-in-suit are related to video codecs. And here's an audio patent suit: Hybrid Audio LLC of Tyler, Texas, filed a suit yesterday with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against Apple, HTC and Dell over US. Patent No. RE40,281 on "Signal processing utilizing a tree-structured array". The patent-in-suit is a reissue of a patent that was applied for in 1997: US Patent No. 6,252,909 on a "multi-carrier transmission system utilizing channels of different bandwidth".

Allegedly, the defendants infringe that patent with various products "that contain or use hardware and/or software for processing audio information in accordance with the MPEG-1 Layer III (MP3) standard."

I've tried to find out more about that company and will add new information here as it becomes available. Hybrid Audio LLC of Tyler, Texas, isn't necessarily -- and at first sight not too likely to be -- related to Hybrid Audio Technologies of Atlanta, Georgia.

Instead, I found out that the reissue patent (application filed on 23 November 2004) and the original patent (application filed on 25 February 1997) were assigned to Aware, Inc. of Bedford, Massachussetts, a company trading on NASDAQ under the AWRE ticker symbol.

That company claims to have focused at least for a certain period of time on "wavelet mathematics applications, digital compression, and telecommunications and channel modulation and coding".

It's not surprising if a company like that obtained an allegedly MP3-related patent. What's unclear for now is whether Aware is behind Hybrid Audio LLC or sold its patent to that entity (directly or indirectly) some time ago. Aware did sell off some assets in the past, and this patent may or may not have been part of such transactions. In the USPTO database, Aware is still listed as the assignee of the patent, but that information may be outdated. There could have been one or more transactions that haven't been reflected in the USPTO database, at least not yet.

[Update] There was a press release earlier this year according to which Aware planned to spin off its IP licensing operations. That could be the answer (not verified yet). Thanks to Patrick Anderson of Gametime IP for the information. [/Update]

Hybrid Audio LLC's complaint looks like the company doesn't believe there are any commitsment in place concerning that patent and the MP3 standard. There's a request for an injunction and no reference to reasonable and non-discriminatory licensing commitments.

The MP3-related infringement allegation I quoted is very broad. The complaint, however, focuses on a smaller number of specifically accused products: the Android-based HTC Evo 4G smartphone; Apple's iPod nano, iPhone 4, iPad, MacBook Pro, and iTunes; and Dell's Inspiron desktops, Studio desktops, Alienware desktops, Inspiron laptops, Adamo laptops, XPS laptops, Alienware laptops, Streak pocket tablet, and Android-based Aero smartphone.

The video codec suit I analyzed yesterday also targeted, besides Apple's iPhone, some Android-based devices. And again, smartphones based on Windows Phone 7 are not affected.

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