Japanese Inventor Wins $3.3-Mil. Patent Suit for iPod Clickwheel

Apple must pay ¥330 million ($3.3 mil.) to inventor Norihiko Saito for having infringed his patent for the clickwheel controller by using them on iPods, according to an order issued Thursday by the Tokyo District Court.

The award is far smaller than Saito’s revised demand of ¥10 bil. but larger than the amount he initially demanded in response to Apple’s suit to invalidate the injunction request he had initially filed with Tokyo Customs in 2007 to block distribution of iPods in Japan.

In 1998 Saito had applied for a patent for the clickwheel controller which is substantially similar to the design adopted in 2004 by Apple for the iPod music player sold in Japan, noted the ruling issued by Presiding Judge Teruhisa Takano. He ordered that his ruling be executed before it becomes finalized.

Just days before the ruling came down Saito, 56, had revised his demand from ¥100 million to ¥10 bil. after three rounds of negotiations failed to elicit a meaningful settlement offer from Apple. The damages Apple has been ordered to pay is based partly on the volume of sales of iPods containing the clickwheel.

The iPod Classic, which remains on sale, continues to use the clickwheel which combines a circular touch sensor with multiple buttons for convenient one-handed title selection and fast-forwarding. The iPod is credited with reviving Apple’s fortunes after its Macintosh personal computers had dwindled down to less than a 5% market share in the US. The Japanese market had remained one of the strongest during Apple’s sustained slump throughout the 1990s.