A tiny Florida company claims Apple is violating its ownership of booting an operating system quickly.  (Source: Cult of Mac)

A flow chart from the patent in question shows a seemingly intuitive process to optimize booting Unix-like or Windows operating system.  (Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office)
Lawsuit seems equal measures a sad observation on the U.S. patent system and irony

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) is no stranger to the U.S. patent system.  After all, it's one of the biggest intellectual property holders in the U.S.  Faced with surging sales of Android-based smartphones, it's now resorted to suing the world's top three Android manufacturers [1][2][3][4][5] in a bid to forcibly remove them from the market.

However, Apple is receiving an awfully ironic taste of its own medicine.  A shadowy Floridian company entitled "Operating System Solutions LLC" (OSS LLC) has filed suit against Apple, alleging its OS X Mac computer operating system violates a patent which quite literally covers booting up fast.

According to the plaintiffs, Apple willfully infringed on the intellectual property holders' exclusive right to "boot up" quickly.

The patent, U.S. Patent 6,434,696 -- entitled "Method for quickly booting a computer system" -- describes:

A method for quickly booting a personal computer system using boot configuration information on memory and the attached devices that was created and saved in a hard disk at the preceding boot process. The method for a quick boot process includes the steps of performing a power-on self test POST) operation when a personal computer system is powered on or a reset button is pressed; performing a normal boot process after the POST operation; saving the contents of memory and the status of the attached devices to a hard disk; checking if a reboot is requested; restoring the saved boot configuration information from the hard disk, after POST is completed during the reboot process; checking whether or not an initial device configuration file and/or an automatic batch file were changed; and executing commands in the two files and saving a newly created boot configuration information to the hard disk for future boot. The personal computer system, may reboot quickly because of omission of execution of the initial device configuration filed and the automatic batch file.

OSS LLC writes [Scribd]:

9. Upon information and belief, without license or permission from OSS, Apple has infringed, actively induced others to infringe, and/or contributorily infringed, literally or under the doctrine of equivalents,one or more claims of the OSS Patent. Apple did so by importing, making, using, offering to sell, and/or selling products and devices that embody and./or practice the patented invention.
17. Upon information and belief Apple's actions were and have been willful and in direct disregard of Plaintiff's patent rights.

A quick search of the U.S. Patent database found no patents issued to OSS LLC.  It did show that the patent in question was originally assigned to LG Electronics, Inc. (SEO:066570) in 2002, after a completed filing in 1999.  The patent was transferred first to Microconnect LLC in 2004, then to ANPA Inc., and then finally to Protimus Technologies LLC, being reissued to Protimus in 2008.  It is unknown when the ownership changed hands to OSS LLC.

Of this plethora of companies, none had an apparent website, except for perhaps Microconnect LLC, which may be affiliated with a British IT services provider of the same name.

Some, such as Business Insider are suggesting LG may be somehow behind the attack.  Writes Florian Mueller (also of FOSS Patents):

There are two distinct possibilities. It's conceivable that LG determined that this patent was not central to its business and divested it. Big companies make divestments of this kind all the time. But with the smartphone patent wars going on, companies usually look to buy -- not sell -- patents. The other -- potentially more meaningful -- alternative is that this previously-unheard-of Florida-based plaintiff could be a proxy steered by LG. In that case, this would be either a warning shot or the beginning of a wider conflict between Apple and LG, which the latter may deem inevitable.

However, the multiple patent holders makes this less likely.  Companies like LG are typically less shy about their patent holdings and are less likely to use shell companies to do their litigious bidding.  More likely the patent belongs to a "patent troll" like Intellectual Property Ventures or NTP, Inc.

It's possible that the true parent company may never be known.  These kinds of disputes are often settled out of court, as it's less expensive to settle than to challenge the patent in a protracted court dispute.

The case does raise broader questions -- for example, why does a company that does not produce computer operating systems get to hold a sweeping patent on any operating system that follows an intuitive scheme to boot faster?  

For Apple, though, that spells irony, as the company has been the recipient of many questionably generic patent awards, such as the patent on multitouch. But in Apple's defense, at least it actually builds the things it patents, even if the patents themselves may be questionable.

The new case was filed last Friday in Florida Middle District Court and is presided by Judge James S. Moody, Jr.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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