Florida resident Thomas S. Ross on Monday filed a lawsuit with the Florida Southern District Court alleging that Apple infringes upon his unpatented 1992 submission of an "Electronic Reading Device" that does imagine a device not dissimilar to the Newton, and is seeking $10 billion in damages and a 1.5 percent royalty on all of Apple's iOS devices. The court filing notes that the plaintiff "was the first to file a device so designed and aggregated," but admits that the patent application was declared abandoned in 1995 because Ross never paid the required application fees.
It is unclear why Ross waited so long to make a legal claim, though he did file to copyright the technical drawings with the US Copyright Office two years ago, reports MacRumors
. While Ross' foresight in the drawings dating from 1992 is remarkable, his failure to secure a patent and long delay before attempting to copyright the hand-done drawings are likely to prove insurmountable obstacles. Apple came out with the Newton -- widely considered the first real Personal Digital Assistant -- in 1993, and was working on the project some five years before Ross produced his drawings.
Ross' 1992 conception
Ross' design, while imagining a number of technologies later to become common in smartphones, such as rechargeable batteries, magnetic latching, back-lit LCD display, a microphone and speaker along with a tiny typewriter-style keyboard, also has some technical errors in the design. There is no power port in his imagined device, since the drawing features tiny "solar cells" to recharge it -- but given the technology at the time, the cells look like those found on solar calculators, and would have been incapable of producing enough power to run such a device.
The design also further imagines a 3.5-inch floppy diskette drive in the device, but lists the device as being seven inches tall in total -- though in the drawing, the floppy drive is show as taking up perhaps 25 percent of the side of the device. The total width of the device is listed as being about four inches wide and 1.25 inches thick, making the 3.5-inch floppy drive an impossibility in the design. Had SD card readers existed at the time, however, that could have been a workable substitute. Putting aside the power issues, the drawing resembles a cross between a Newton and early Android device, and is appreciably prescient for what was to come.
However, patentable inventions have to be shown to be tenable, and be properly patented -- Ross' failure to secure these elements is likely to sabotage the attempt, particularly given his 24-year wait to make a claim of infringement, and having never filed a claim against the more-similar Newton, Palm, Kindle, or other multimedia and PDA devices his drawings more closely resemble. Apple was also recently sued by a Detroit-area woman
who similarly claims to have invented a "detachable beeper disc digital gym shoe computer wrist watch," which she claims Apple and Nike are infringing.