Google (NSDQ: GOOG) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) are in a worldwide squabble over smartphone patents, but they will have to cooperate long enough to fight a common enemy — a Florida firm that says both tech giants are infringing its mapping technology.
In a complaint filed in Orlando federal court, PanoMap Technologies claims the use of the Google Maps “Street View” feature in the iPad and iPhone violates US Patent No. 6,563,529. The patent describes an “Interactive system for displaying detailed view and direction in panoramic images.”
PanoMap claims that both Apple and Google should pay triple damages because they knew about the patent but ignored it. As proof, the company claims that Apple visited a website that displayed the patent in 2007 while Google cited the ’529 patent in a recent patent application of its own.
Although Google and Apple are rivals, the latter includes Google’s popular mapping technology with its devices. The Street View function of Google Maps allows users to see a photograph of locations like houses or street corners.
The patent in question appears to describe a way to adjust a camera position from place to place and include it in a map image. Here is the abstract:
A method and system for indicating the camera position, direction, and field of view in a map or panoramic image comprises a map image window which displays a map or panoramic image of the site to be studied (house, apartment, city, etc.). A detailed view window displays a portion of the map image, taken from a point in the site. A highlighted sector in the map image represents the viewing position, direction, and field of view that the detailed view window displays. When the user changes the field of view in the detailed view window, the highlighted sector in the map image changes in synchronism. The resulting interactive windows allow a person to easily and quickly view and understand the field of view, position, and direction of the image being displayed in the detail view window.
The patent was issued to computer scientist Jerry Jongerius in 2003 but was then transferred to a shell company called Empire IP last year and transferred again to “PanoMap Technologies LLC” in early February.
Lawyers for PanoMap did not reply to a request asking if their client actually makes mapping technology or if it is just a shell company backed by investors who fund patent lawsuits. Despite last year’s patent reform bill, the influence of such “non-practicing entities” or “patent trolls” appears to be on the rise.
A search for “PanoMap” reveals the name is tied to an Atlanta company, CSA, that builds lasers to help architects. An executive from the firm wrote that, “CSA owns the PanoMap mark, but is not suing GOOGLE/APPLE. Incidently, CSA has filed a patent application a year ago — technology we have been developing for a decade or so.”
If this is true, the new lawsuit could raise a strange situation where a shell company is using the trademarked name of a real company to sue other companies.
A copy of the lawsuit is below.