It is a plot that we see several times every week.
An old patent gets snapped up by someone who creates a company around it and sues a bunch of easy targets to extract license fees in the hope that their potential victims want to avoid perhaps even higher fees following a court ruling. This here is one remarkable example.
A company called Data Carriers is suing 24 tech companies, including Apple, Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, RIM, Nokia, Nintendo, Motorola, LG, Lenovo, HP, Dell and Asus over a patent that is entitled "Proactive presentation of automating features to a computer user." That may sound very general in its nature and is, in fact, a rather complex description of what we find to be common sense today: The patent describes the idea that a an application is able to record a certain usage of an application to provide a feature that would provide an automated execution feature later on. You could consider it a patent that covers all context-sensitive aspects of applications today. Every time a software reacts to user input with the suggestions of some automation feature, this patent could potentially be infringed. A prime example would be Microsoft's ribbon menu bar. Interestingly, Microsoft is not among those being sued at this time.
The patent was originally filed in 1992 by Symantec and was awarded to the company in 1995. For unknown reasons, the patents was acquired by Data Carriers, a Dover, Delaware-based company with no history on March 16, 2012. Four days later, Data Carriers filed 24 patent infringement lawsuits. In the case of Apple, the plaintiff claims that the "iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, iTunes, Macbook, desktops, Safari, iOS, and OS X, and various versions thereof, and www.apple.com" are violating the patent. Sony apparently infringes the patent with products such as "laptops, desktops, smartphones, tablets, Playstation, Playstation Store and software loaded onto and used on such devices". HP is affected with its entire client PC product line, including "laptops, desktops, tablets", the suit claims.
It is interesting to note that Data Carriers is not asking the court for an injunction. It simply wants its victims to pay "its damages, costs, expenses, and prejudgment and post-judgment interest".