In 2010 Apple released the iPhone 4. It was the worst kept secret in iOS history. Nevertheless, it was an astonishing device featuring some incredible specs and hardware. One of the most important – mentioned during the keynote – was the noise cancellation system.
It worked in a similar manner to that of the Nexus One. It has two microphones: one in the usual area on the bottom, and one at the top near the 3.5mm jack input. In essence, it works by figuring out what the background noise is, and canceling it out. Turns out, the technology is not Apple’s.
A company named Noise Free Wireless alleges that Cupertino’s designers stole its technology and implemented it in the iPhone lineup. The company filed for a patent in 2007, and began working with Apple a year later.
They had several meetings to discuss how it could be incorporated in to the iPhone’s hardware. Secrets were shared, and agreements were made that it was all confidential. Noise Free essentially shared absolutely everything down to the circuit board plans and user guides.
The lawsuit filing contains some pretty strong allegations against the iPhone makers, stating that Apple “performed a series of unauthorized tests on Noise Free’s hardware, improperly extracted Noise Free’s proprietary and confidential object code”.
Cupertino reportedly ceased communications with Noise Free in 2009, but then re-approached them in 2010. Not long after the 2010 meeting, Apple submitted its own patent for “User-specific noise suppression for voice quality improvements.” In the list of inventors were employees present at the meetings between Cupertino and Noise Free.
“On further information and belief, Apple provided Audience with Noise Free’s confidential trade secret information to assist Audience in delivering a noise cancellation solution that was similar and/or identical to the solution that Noise Free designed.“
The suit mentions iPhone 4 and 4S as well as all three versions of the iPad. It’ll be interesting to see what Apple has to say about this. I’m guessing we won’t get an official press release, or response.
That said, the case isn’t looking like one Cupertino can win so easily. The only possible way is that the technology is classed as a FRAND patent, meaning that it’s one that should be available to all other manufacturers since there’s no other way of achieving the same result. In other words: if it’s the industry standard.