Apple isn’t afraid of beef, and the latest company on its bad side is Red Digital Cinema. The two companies are currently locked in a lawsuit over one of Red’s RAW codec patents, which Apple is trying to get invalidated. The big question, however, is why Apple is going through the trouble in the first place.
Red Digital Cinema makes relatively pricey digital cinematography equipment — think premium 4K cameras — and the ill-fated Red Hydrogen One smartphone.
It’s the owner of a number of patents related to RAW formats and recording — and it has a reputation for being litigious. It reportedly forced a blogger to sign a non-disparagement agreement after writing a critical opinion piece.
That said, it also has a cult-like following and is popular with camera nerds. But getting in a fight with Apple means Red is going to have to punch well above its own weight class.
Built from a Kevlar and heavy-duty aluminium frame, equipped with a “holographic” screen, and featuring a price tag of $US1,300 ($1,871), the Red Hydrogen One was supposed to be unlike any phone ever made. And in some ways it was, but it was also a massive flop, a flop that Red founder Jim Jannard now blames primarily on the phone’s Chinese manufacturer.
In the case, the patent in question is No. 9,245,314 — and it pertains to “a video camera” that can “capture, compress, and store video image data in a memory of the video camera”. Or in non-gobbledygook, recording RAW files internally on a device. (RAW refers to a minimally processed camera format.)
Apple is claiming that Red’s tech is actually “unpatentable” and therefore should be cancelled. That would be a blow for Red, as its codecs are viewed as a major advantage to its products.
The patent refers to recording in 6:1 ratio, with a resolution of at least 2K or 4K. However, Apple alleges Red’s patent itself lacks the required written description of the specific technology it claims to have invented. In other words, it’s unusually vague where patents are generally supposed to be hyper-specific.
The main example cited is the claim that Red could “output the raw mosaiced image data at a resolution of at least 2K and at a frame rate of at least about 23 frames per second”. However, Apple believes that the patent is too vague, and did not sufficiently describe any new technology.
It further claims the patent in question basically piggybacks off earlier filings by other entities, and that an expert would clearly recognise the concepts existing before Red’s patent.
Legalese aside, there are some things at play here to consider. While it isn’t clear what exactly prompted Apple to file the petition, it is possible Red got lawsuit-happy with an overly vague patent, thereby throwing a roadblock in Apple’s own plans.
What are those plans? Who knows. It could be anything from pushing iPhones as a legitimate video recording devices, expanding its Pro Res Raw format to be in more cameras and film-related products, or just using aspects of Red’s tech for itself.
But at the end of the day, patents are powerful, and this isn’t the first time Red has been taken to court over an invalid, vague patent. Red has already used its patents to hit companies such as Sony and Blackmagic with lawsuits. Whether Apple winning would lessen that, or just be a slap on the wrist is too early to tell.
For its part, Red doesn’t seem terribly worried. In a statement to Newsshooter.com, Red Digital Cinema President Jarred Land said, “This is standard operating procedure for patent holders. It’s not the first time someone has challenged the Redcode patents and each time our patents have held fast. Red fully anticipates its patents will be held valid again.
“We have a fantastic relationship with Apple and as they publicly announced in June we continue to work on incredible things with them.”
Apple and Red did not respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment.
One thing, however, is clear. Apple isn’t afraid to go to court over patents that get in the way of what it wants. You just have to look at its recent beef with Qualcomm over 5G modems to see that. In any case, Red’s gotten on Apple’s nerves and it’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.