The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) has launched a formal investigation into four patent complaints filed against Apple by computer graphics hardware maker S3 Graphics, which asked the agency to block Apple from importing the iPhone, iPad and other products into the U.S.
The USITC on Friday announced it would investigate the May 28 so-called section 337 complaint filed by S3, based in Fremont, California. The complaint alleges that Apple has infringed four S3 patents related to electronic devices with image processing systems and related software. The patents involve image compression and decompression software, and Apple distributes a software development kit with the same technology adapted for use in its computers, the S3 complaint said.
S3 has asked the USITC to block the import of the iPod Touch and the MacBook, in addition to the iPhone and iPad, according to the complaint.
Representatives of S3 and Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comments.
S3 applied for a patent for the image compression technology in October 1997.
From that application, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office issued four patents: No. 7,043,087, for an image processing system, issued in May 2006; No. 6,775,417, for fixed-rate, block-based image compression with inferred pixel values, issued in August 2004; No. 6,683,978, also for fixed-rate, block-based image compression with inferred pixel values, issued in January 2004; and No. 6,658,146, also for fixed-rate image compression, issued in December 2003.
U.S. companies alleging patent infringement by competitors often file section 337 complaints in addition to filing lawsuits. Many section 337 complaints result in a settlement.
Apple has been involved in a series of patent disputes with competitors in recent months, both as the company originating the complaints and as the company accused of infringing patents. Apple and smartphone maker HTC have accused each other of patent infringement, and the USITC in May announced it would investigate Eastman Kodak after Apple filed a complaint about patents relating to digital imaging devices and software.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is email@example.com.