You've accused Apple of patent infringement. You want to probe the iOS source in a closed-room environment. What to do in a pandemic?

Judge lays out rules from one-time passwords to window snooping


A judge has approved the use of so-called remote review laptops in a patent battle between Apple and Japanese tech manufacturer Maxell so lawyers can continue their case during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the order this week, the US federal district judge noted the courts may require "unconventional practices and accommodations that would not normally be accepted as appropriate" and approved an approach [PDF] that will allow Maxell's team to receive laptops from Apple containing the source code of Apple's iOS mobile operating system, used in iPhones and iPads. This should allow Maxell's bods to pore over the hush-hush software blueprints for evidence to support their claims of patent infringement.

Usually, during the review of such highly confidential material, lawyers and tech experts would be expected to sit in a secure room at a facility run by the company whose source code was being reviewed for infringements. But with the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak restricting travel, and requiring social distancing, that approach is out.

So Judge Robert Schroeder, of the eastern district of Texas, approved a workaround along with a long list of rules. For one, the remote review laptops must be kept in a locked cabinet or safe whenever not in use. And when they are being used in a so-called Source Code Review Room, whether that's in a reviewer's home or office, there cannot be any other electrical equipment nearby, the judge commanded.

"No recordable media or recordable devices, including without limitation sound recorders, computers, cell phones, smart watches, peripheral equipment, cameras, devices containing unobstructed cameras (e.g., webcams, unless entirely shielded with an opaque material), CDs, DVDs, or drives of any kind, may be in the Source Code Review Room when the Remote Review Laptop is powered on," read the rules covering the use of the laptops. A further set of conditions covered the procedure that must be followed before and after review.

The reviewer also can't face the laptop to "any external window" and can't have it powered on when they are not reviewing the source code. The reviewers also have to give Apple at least an hour's notice before they start up the machine, so they can be given a single-use password to access the computer for that session, and inform them the moment they have finished. "At all times, all network and USB ports and wireless transmitters of each Remote Review Laptop shall be and remain disabled, and the Remote Review Laptop shall not be connected to a printer in any way," the rules state.

What is it this time?

As for the case itself, Maxell claims infringement of no fewer than 10 of its patents by Apple's FaceTime, Maps and FindMyFriends services on iPhones and iPads, plus a trove of other features from an alarm clock to video calling to location sharing. It says all iOS devices up to 2018 ripped off its technology. Maxell obtained the US patents after it absorbed Hitachi Consumer Electronics in 2013, we note. The patents are:

Maxell sued [PDF] Apple in March 2019 asking for a jury trial, compensation and injunctions against the iGiant. "Since at least June 2013, Apple has been aware of Maxell's patents and has had numerous meetings and interactions regarding its infringement of these patents," the complaint stated. "These meetings included Apple's representatives being provided with detailed information regarding Maxell's patents, the developed technology, and Apple's ongoing use of this patented technology."

It went on: "Through this process, Apple's representatives requested and received detailed explanations regarding Maxell's patents and allegations. Maxell believed that the parties could reach a mutually beneficial solution and to that end considered a potential business transaction and continued to answer multiple inquiries from Apple over the course of several years, including communicating with Apple as recently as late 2018."

But Apple is notorious for holding meetings and then going its own way, relying on its arm of lawyers and vast financial resources to protect it from infringement claims. Even when Apple has lost, it has gone to extraordinary lengths to delay and obfuscate patent infringement cases; the best example being the ongoing 10-year battle with VirnetX.

Maxell had better be in it for the long haul. At least they can work from home now. ®

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