In early 1992, Thomas S. Ross was sentenced to five years in federal prison for scamming $1 million from the U.S. government and low-income students at his failed computer school in Chicago. Later that year, while he was an inmate at the Federal Prison Camp in Terre Haute, Indiana, Ross says, he invented the iPhone.
In a suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Ross — now 71 and living in Miramar — says Apple stole the iPhone idea from him. He claims an “electronic reading device” that he attempted to patent while he was in prison formed “the very essence” of Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod.
“Instead of creating its own ideas, Apple chose to adopt a culture of dumpster diving as an R&D strategy,” Ross writes in his suit.
Ross insists Apple owes him $10 billion. Ross’s suit, and the media coverage of his claim, leave out his fraud conviction and later financial woes. In court papers, he presents several drawings from his patent application, including this one:
Ross, who’s representing himself in his suit against the world’s most valuable company, says his 1992 patent never was approved because he didn’t pay the $420 application fee. Ross was in prison and presumably broke — a 2005 bankruptcy filing by Ross showed he still owed every penny of the $1,000,100 in restitution he and his half-brother had been ordered to pay more than a decade earlier.
Last year a Miramar attorney for Ross sent a demand letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, according to court papers. An Apple attorney’s response: “Apple could not possibly have had access to, let alone copied, Mr. Ross’ applications. Additionally, based on our review of the materials you provided, we do not believe there is any similarity between Apple’s products and Mr. Ross’s application.”
A patent attorney quoted last week by the Guardian likewise dismisses Ross’s intellectual property as “childish hand drawings.”
The federal judge who sentenced Ross in 1992 marveled that, even after his conviction, Ross continued “to avoid, to evade, to obfuscate,” according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times. A later appellate court ruling upheld the conviction and noted that Ross scammed the government and low-income students paying tuition with Pell Grants and used the proceeds for, among other things, a $45,000 down payment on a yacht and another $45,000 down payment on a Mercedes.