As a young man back in 1992, Thomas S. Ross drew up plans for a then-futuristic handheld gizmo he dubbed the "Electronic Reading Device" (EDR). He envisioned it as a way for people to read novels, check the news, and view pictures and even videos, but also dreamed that the device could be set up to digitally communicate with other devices and networks. In fact, he says he even had plans for a whole line of ERDs that varied in size and were configured for different tasks.
Ross never actually built one of these ERDs, but he did send his drawings off to the patent office.
Twenty-four years later, Ross, who lives in Miramar, is suing Apple and claims that their iPhone and iPad lines shamelessly ripped off his ERD vision.
He's now filed a lawsuit in the Southern Florida District U.S. Court and is seeking more than $10 billion from Apple plus a cut of all iPad, iPhone, and some iPod sales.
Here's the thing: Ross' patent lapsed back in 1995 after he failed to pay the fees.
You might also not be surprised to find that this isn't the first time Ross has filed suit over his ERDs. Back in 2007, Ross sued the U.S. government for letting his patent lapse in the first place. He claimed that because of his "indigent circumstances," he asked the patent office to waive the fees, but they never replied. That suit was ultimately dismissed. In that lawsuit, he claimed others had ripped off his ideas, but didn't specifically mention Apple.
In the current suit, Ross claims Apple has adopted "a culture of dumpster diving as an R&D strategy," and insinuates that they somehow found his lapsed patent and used it as inspiration.
"Apple engaged in systematic searching for other people's ideas by rummaging through all sorts of resources, private and governmental, for 'abandoned' and 'discarded' prior art, and ideas, and, when it found something promising, it 'made it its own,'" claims the suit.
To support the claim, Ross points to a 1996 documentary in which Steve Jobs claims, “We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.”
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He further claims that all iPads, iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPod Nanos are basically rip-offs of his ERDs.
Interestingly, he's not trying to take credit for the Apple Watch.
Ross, who is representing himself in the lawsuit, seeks damages upward of $10 billion and wants cuts ranging from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent of all future use of his patents.