Apple Loses $208.5MM In Cover Flow Patent Infringement Suit

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Although I never end up using it unless I happen to browse music on my iPhone in a supine position, by most accounts, people love Cover Flow, Apple’s virtual shelf for iTunes on the Mac and iOS that displays albums by their cover art (or, in OS X, by its preview image). A nice flourish, but not particularly functional for dealing with large collections, I’ve always thought. Not really worth it.

You have to wonder if Apple isn’t wondering the same thing this morning, after an East Texas Federal Court passed down a ruling saying that Apple has infringed on patents held by Mirror Worlds, a company started by Yale computer science professor and, tragically, Unabomber victim David Gelernter… and been commanded by the court to pay $208.5 million in damages for the transgression.

Time Machine’s interface, which has similarities to Cover Flow, was also covered in the suit, which was first filed by Mirror Worlds back in March of 2008.

On the bright side, it looks like Apple has good reason to appeal: they were awarded a patent for Cover Flow back in April. More over, the East Texas Federal Court seems to be well known for being overly plaintiff friendly, having awarded large damages in similar suits in the past… so much so that it’s become something of a tourist locale for individuals looking to score major damages against larger companies.

At the very least, though, this case is indicative of the confusing issue of software patents, which — under the current system — are handed out far too frivolously and to multiple parties for a variation of the same idea. Apple might have fallen afoul of one frivolous software patent lawsuit today, but it’s not as if their corporate file drawers aren’t stuffed with a few of their own, just waiting to be yanked out and used against competitors.