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Apple Sued Over iPhone

A Florida company claims the iPhone maker's keyboard infringes its patent.

Apple

(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. (AAPL) Report

is facing the first of what may be many lawsuits claiming infringement of patents pertaining to technology in its new iPhone.

SP Technologies of St. Petersburg, Fla., is calling for Apple to pay royalties for the "willful and deliberate" infringement of a patent it says Apple used illegally for the iPhone's keyboard, according to a filed complaint.

SP's complaint also asks for a permanent injunction against further use of the intellectual property at issue.

The claim that Apple deliberately violated a patent raises the level of damages it may have to pay if found guilty. If a judge or jury rules that a defendant willfully used someone else's intellectual property, then the defendant may have to pay punitive damages equal to three times the economic loss that the plaintiff suffered.

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SP filed the suit in a federal court in the Eastern District of Texas, which is considered to be sympathetic to plaintiffs in patent infringement cases. T. John Ward, SP's lawyer, argued in his filing that the case should be heard in the Texas court because Apple conducts business in the area by selling or attempting to sell the iPhone online or through local stores.

Apple is a big target for patent suits given the technical complexity of its products and its deep financial reserves. Plaintiffs in cases like this often hope that the threat of an injunction and treble damages will compel a defendant to settle without a trial.

BlackBerry maker

Research In Motion

(RIMM)

paid $612.5 million in march 2006 to settle a patent claim alleged by NTP, a small company that collects intellectual property but does not manufacture any products with it.

Shares of Apple closed the regular session off 3.4% to $131.85.