US tech giant Apple is caught up in a new patent row, facing a claim for damages from German company IPCom. A German court has begun hearings on the case that could entail the biggest-ever fine for copyright violation.
German patent-holding company IPCom was demanding 1.57 billion euros ($2 billion) in damages from California-based technology firm Apple, the regional court for the Mannheim area of Germany announced as it opened a hearing on the case on Tuesday.
Presiding judge Holger Kircher said the court would first seek establish whether or not Apple had violated an IPCom patent in two instances, before ruling on the amount of damages.
After four hours of proceedings on Tuesday, he delayed judgement until February 28. A lawyer for Apple sought dismissal of the case.
Priority calls in saturated networks
At the center of the case is a patent allegedly held by IPCom and registered under the codename EP 1841268 with the European Patent Office. IPCom, which owns a portfolio of 1,200 patents in the mobile communications sector, said it had bought the patent from German engineering company Bosch in 2007.
The patent is for mobile technology that allows priority access to certain mobile phone calls even when a network is saturated. Several firms, including Apple, have contested that IPCom owned the patent. But the European Patent Office has recently approved IPCom's ownership.
IPCom said the sum in damages it had claimed was based on German copyright law, which took Apple's revenues, profits and brand value into account.
If the claim were to be upheld by the court, Apple would have to pay the biggest fine ever handed down in the technology sector for copyright violation.
The highest fine to date totals $920 million, which a California-based court slapped on Samsung for violating patents held by Apple.
uhe/ipj (dpa, AFP)