JoAnn Seltzer Jul. 20, 2016, 1:13pm


FORT LAUDERDALE – A Florida man, claiming his ideas were stolen, is suing Apple for millions of dollars, but he may have a tough fight ahead of him.

In 1992, Thomas Ross filed a patent application for an electronic reading device (ERD), but he failed to pay the necessary application fees. In 1995, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office declared the patent abandoned.

As Apple Inc. began releasing its line of “i” products, Ross began to notice the similarities to his own ideas. He is suing Apple claiming the ideas used to develop the iPhone, iPad, iPod, etc. came from the patent application he had filed.

Ross is demanding to have a jury hear his case in the District Court of Southern Florida, but it may not make it that far. 

“An expired patent is simply not enforceable. There are means by which a patentee may seek to revive an expired patent, but it appears to be much too late in this case,” Attorney J. Wiley Horton of Pennington PA told the Florida Record.

Ross claims in the complaint that Apple searched through abandoned and discarded patents and derived its ideas from the pictures and information he submitted to the patent office in 1992. There were no other similar electronic reading devices at that time. In the complaint, Ross claims his ideas were stolen, but the court may see it differently.

According to Horton, “An abandoned or expired patent belongs in the public domain and is, therefore, free for anyone to use.”

Patent law only grants a temporary monopoly to an inventor, Horton said, failing to pay the necessary fees would end that monopoly.

“One very important goal of the patent system is the dissemination of knowledge for the betterment of everyone,” Horton said.

According to the complaint, Ross' device would be back lit and allow a person to read novels, news stories and other reading material as well as play videos, view pictures, have phone capabilities and more. It would also be operated with a touch screen.

The pictures Ross provided to the patent office included ideas for the design of the device. He envisioned a rectangle device with rounded edges that would be available in different sizes, the complaint says. Apple placed its first iPhone, which included those functions, on the market in 2007.

Ross also placed a copyright on his work and drawings in 1992, according to the complaint. He registered it with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2014.

Horton said the case is unlikely to have an impact on the technology sector and the case will likely be dismissed.

A call to Ross was not returned by press time.

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