On April 30th, Tel Aviv, Israel-based camera tech developer Corephotonics filed a complaint alleging patent infringement against Cupertino, CA-based consumer tech giant Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) in the Northern District of California. This lawsuit comes months after Corephotonics filed a patent infringement suit against Apple last November, also in Northern California, with both suits alleging that Apple copied Corephotonics’ patented technology after Apple had allegedly expressed interest in a business relationship with the Israeli tech startup.
Across both cases, Corephotonics is asserting a series of five patents-in-suit, including:
- U.S. Patent No. 9568712, titled Miniature Telephoto Lens Assembly. Issued last February, it covers a lens assembly with a plurality of refractive aspheric lens elements arranged along an optical axis which provides a smaller ratio of total track length (TTL) to effective focal length (EFL). This patent has been asserted in both Corephotonics suits.
- U.S. Patent No. 9857568, same title as the ‘712 patent. Issued this January, it claims a lens assembly including five elements and having a TTL/EFL ratio of less than 1.0.
- U.S. Patent No. 9185291, titled Dual Aperture Zoom Digital Camera. Issued in November 2015, it claims a zoom digital camera having a wide imaging section to provide wide image data of an object or scene, a tele imaging section that provides tele image data of an object or scene, and a camera controller that combines in still mode wide and tele image data to provide a fused output image of the object or scene from a particular point of view.
- U.S. Patent No. 9538152, titled High Resolution Thin Multi-Aperture Imaging Systems. Issued last January, it discloses a multi-aperture imaging systems including cameras providing first and second images and a processor configured to provide an output image using a point of view from the first camera based on a zoom factor input and using the second image as a non-primary image.
- U.S. Patent No. 9402032, same title as the ‘712 patent. Issued in July 2016, it covers an optical lens assembly which satisfies requires for compact imaging systems that can be used in digital camera modules and provide a low TTL/EFL ratio, which increases image quality.
Both of Corephotonics’ lawsuits notes that one of the company’s first acts upon being founded in 2012 was to reach out to Apple through a previous business contact to explore a potential business relationship. Corephotonics had developed a dual-aperture camera technology capable of fitting within the confines of a modern thin smartphone but capable of providing superior image quality and light sensitivity. Instead of relying on a processor to provide digital zoom, Corephotonics had developed a system using two cameras, the second camera having a telephoto lens providing a much higher optical resolution than the wide-angle camera. Corephotonics also developed dual-aperture camera technology for video involving methods of transitioning between the telephoto camera and the wide-angle camera to conserve power.
Corephotonics allegedly first informed Apple that it intended to pursue patent protections for its dual-aperture camera technologies as early as June 2012 during a meeting involving representatives of both firms. In June 2013, Apple camera engineers visited Corephotonics’ Tel Aviv headquarters and were presented with technical details and architectures regarding Corephotonics’ camera technology as well as pending patent applications which the Israeli startup had already filed. In October of that year, a larger team of Apple engineers visited Corephotonics in Tel Aviv to engage in discussions surrounding dual camera processing methods.
Communications between Apple and Corephotonics increased through June 2014, when representatives from both companies had a meeting regarding the potential licensing of Corephotonics’ patented technology. “During this meeting, in response to Corephotonics claim about the commercial value of its patents, Apple’s lead negotiator responded that even if Apple infringed, it would take years and millions of dollars in litigation before Apple might have to pay something,” Corephotonics’ lawsuit reads.
Business negotiations were halted by Apple in August 2014 although technical discussions allegedly continued between the two firms. Then that November, Apple tech news publication MacRumors published an article leaking details about a camera technology incorporated into the upcoming generation of the iPhone which was similar to Corephotonics’ technology. After sporadic contact through 2015, Corephotonics’ CEO reached out to Apple in January 2016 to inquire about a possible business collaboration. Apple engineers again visited Corephotonics’ Israeli headquarters to learn about more recent technology offerings developed by the company. Apple and Corephotonics held multiple discussions about licensing intellectual property covering the camera technology through August 2016 and then Apple introduced the iPhone 7 Plus the following month. The iPhone 7 Plus marked the first time that Apple included a dual camera assembly with a telephoto camera for enhanced zoom. Negotiations between Apple and Corephotonics broke down by October of 2016 and Apple stopped showing interest in licensing Corephotonics’ patents.
Corephotonics also alleges that Apple had knowledge of its patents stemming from Apple’s own activities in filing patent applications covering small-format camera technologies. Corephotonics notes one Apple patent application which was rejected by the patent examiner as obvious in light of a published application which is a family member of both the ‘712 and ‘568 patents-in-suit. In another Apple patent application, two of the four prior art references included by Apple were patent applications filed by Corephotonics.
Corephotonics suits include counts of willful patent infringement of all patents asserted in this case. Apple products which are accused of having the infringing technologies include the iPhone 7 Plus, the iPhone 8 Plus and the iPhone X. Corephotonics notes that technical specifications for these products include descriptions of a telephoto lens and cites an online photography how-to page on Apple’s website which includes a tutorial on how to compose photography using a telephoto camera. Corephotonics also cites to statements posted in online forums by an Apple staff member which discusses the seamless transition of a camera between a wide-angle and telephoto lens during zoom operations, a method allegedly covered by Corephotonics’ patents. Corephotonics is seeking a permanent injunction on sales of the accused products, a damages award at an amount to be proved at trial and enhanced damages for Apple’s willful infringement.