Beats gives Apple an earful of patent trouble

Recently acquired by Apple (AAPL) in a $3 billion deal, Beats Electronics may have brought with it a headache in addition to appealing product and packaging design, employee talent and a music subscription service. Bose has filed suit claiming that the headphone maker has infringed Bose patents on noise-canceling technology.

According to the legal complaint Bose filed with a district court in Delaware, Bose's noise-canceling headphones use technology for which the company has been 22 granted patents, and it has 14 more pending applications. The suit alleges that Beats products infringed at least five Bose patents.

Bose has been in the acoustics business for years, initially based on the stereo speaker research of late founder Amar Bose, who was a professor at MIT. The company's research into improved headphones, particularly so-called active noise reduction, which creates a signal that can cancel out ambient noise, started in 1978. Bose released its first commercial noise-reducing headset in 1989.

Given its research into basic technology, Bose might have a stronger base of protection for noise-canceling headphones than Apple has for smartphones. That could put Apple into a weak position in defending against the suit.

Bose is seeking unspecified financial damages, additional damages for allegedly willful infringement, legal expenses and an injunction against the sale of whatever Beats products might be considered infringing.

Apple has said that it planned to put Beats "on steroids" to help jump-start unspecified new products. The EU just approved the Apple and Beats deal.

Bose emailed CBS MoneyWatch to say that "as a matter of practice, we don't comment on on-going litigation" and that the company is "committed to protecting our investment, protecting our customers, and defending the patents we own." MoneyWatch tried to contact Beats but has yet to receive a response.

Apple has been busy with acquisitions lately. The company will reportedly buy talk radio app Swell for $30 million, although the signs are that this is an acquisition to hire talent, and not to gain the product. In a separate deal, Apple bought BookLamp, which had undertaken a book "genome" project, similar to the music genome project that launched streaming company Pandora (P). BookLamp intends to categorize books in a way that would allow it to suggest titles similar to one that a reader had chosen.

  • Erik Sherman On Twitter»

    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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