Touch-based controls on Apple's iPhones are at the heart of two legal challenges launched against the company this week. A class-action lawsuit filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California alleges that Apple has wrongly "bricked" -- rendered inoperable -- iPhones whose fingerprint sensors were damaged or repaired by unauthorized third-party repair shops.
Meanwhile, San Jose-based Immersion Corp. -- a company that develops and licenses touch-based feedback, or "haptic," technologies -- also filed complaints yesterday against Apple with the U.S. International Trade Commission and in U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware.
Those complaints allege that Apple, along with AT&T and AT&T Mobility, have infringed on three of Immersion's patents for haptic feedback, touch controls and interactivity. Apple did not respond to our request for comment on either of the legal challenges.
Haptic Tech in Billions of Devices
Founded in 1993 and publicly traded since 1999, Immersion is no stranger to high-profile lawsuits. In 2002, the company sued Sony and Microsoft for infringement of patents related to vibration-based feedback on video-game controls, and eventually reached settlement agreements with both companies.
In its latest suit against Apple, Immersion alleges that Apple, AT&T and AT&T Mobility have infringed on its patents through their use and importation of haptic technologies found in the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus and various versions of the Apple Watch.
"We believe the merits of our case are strong and substantial," Immersion president and CEO Victor Viegas said yesterday in a conference call announcing details of the complaints. He noted that the company's haptic technologies are currently used in more than 3 billion electronic devices.
'Error 53' Class Action
Apple also faces a class-action challenge launched this week by the Seattle-based law firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC. That suit alleges that Apple is disabling iPhones whose Touch ID sensors have been damaged or repaired by non-Apple partners.
Reports indicate that thousands of iPhone owners might have been affected by the so-called "Error 53" problem, which effectively kills iPhones with affected Touch ID sensors after their owners update the devices' operating system. Apple has asserted that the bricking response is aimed at preventing security problems in phones with unauthorized repairs. The class-action suit disputes Apple's stance on the matter.
"If security was the primary concern, then why did the phones work just fine, sometimes for several months, without the software update?" PCVA lead attorney for the case Darrell Cochran asked in a statement yesterday "Error 53 only rears its ugly head when downloading a newer version of Apple's operating system."
Cochran asserted that Apple has failed to properly warn iPhone owners about the potential of such actions. "If Apple wants to kill your phone under any set of circumstances and for any reason, it has to make it crystal clear to its customers before the damage is done," he said. "The error code 53 signals the death of the phone, and Apple's response has been 'you have no options; it's not covered under warranty, and you have to buy a new phone.'"