A patent-licensing entity called MobileMedia Ideas LLC has won a patent lawsuit against Apple over ring-silencing features on mobile phones, and a federal jury has ordered the electronics giant to pay damages in the amount of $3m (£2.3m).
Usually patent trolls are seen to be in it for the money and stifling innovation by trying to claim ownership for the design of rudimentary technical functions, but for once, in this case the battle is a victory for the technologists.
In 1994, Sony patented a method for users to control incoming calls on a mobile phone, whereby an alert sound would be either stopped, or the sound would reduce after the initial loud alert, provided the user was able to signal that they were aware of the call.
Since 2010, MobileMedia, owned by Nokia, Sony and IP rights management firm MPEG LA, has been fighting a war to get it legally declared that Apple has infringed Patent No. RE 39,231, together with 15 other patents, in its iPhone line of smartphones.
Unfortunately for Sony, Nokia and MPEG LA, the court found in 2012 that Apple was only infringing four patents concerning call alerts, call handling, call rejection and the phone's camera, and when Apple appealed, in 2015 three more patents were struck off, leaving only the call silencing patent to be evaluated.
Apple tried to argue that a patent for the telephone ring was far too vague to be enforced, but the federal court of Delaware disagreed, and on Wednesday 21 September, decided that Apple was indeed guilty of infringing the patent.
However, while it is a big deal that traditional mobile phone manufacturers have been able to prove that Steve Jobs and Apple did infringe others' technologies while creating the iPhone, the six-year-long battle has cost both sides many times more than $3m in legal fees, and instead of walking away with the $18m in damages it was hoping for, MobileMedia has had to settle in the end for a lot less.