Did Apple Snag AuthenTec for Mobile Payments?

Apple scoops up a biometrics security firm, legal fireworks ensue.

Late last week it was revealed that Apple is acquiring Melbourne, Fla.-based AuthenTec for roughly $356 million. Besides raising hopes that Apple was getting serious about mobile payments, it also raises the specter of possible legal action.

AuthenTec is a biometrics, DRM and embedded security firm that specializes in compact fingerprint readers for notebooks and mobile devices. The deal's timing is raising eyebrows as the tech world grows weary of waiting for Apple's stab at a near-field communications (NFC) payments platform and the clock ticks down on the release of iPhone 5 and iOS 6 – the latter of which is being regarded as baby steps toward a full-blown, NFC-powered mobile payments platform.

iOS 6 will feature Passbook, an app that stores boarding passes, movie tickets, coupons and event tickets. At present, Passbook is little more than a way to consolidate and organize scannable loyalty cards, coupons and passes. However, rumors that the iPhone will soon support near-field communications (NFC) have the industry buzzing that Passbook is Apple's answer to Google Payments.

Adding AuthenTec's biometric and mobile network security tech to the iPhone and iPad would provide a healthy boost to Apple's digital wallet ambitions. And the company's mobile VPN solutions and fingerprint scanners could potentially make the leap to future Apple devices, including the MacBook line.

AuthenTec Undervalued?

Shortly after the deal was made public, the law firm of Rigrodsky & Long announced that it was "investigating potential legal claims" against AuthenTec's board of directors.

At issue is whether AuthenTec's board undervalued the company by agreeing to a deal that pegs the company's value at $8 per share. Rigrodsky & Long says that a possible class-action lawsuit would delve into whether "AuthenTec's board of directors failed to adequately shop the Company and obtain the best possible value for AuthenTec's shareholders before entering into an agreement with Apple."

AuthenTec sits on an IP porfolio that includes "foundational technology patents from the fingerprint biometric industry," according to the company. The company has supplied over 100 million fingerprint sensors to Samsung Nokia, Motorola, HP and Lenovo, among others. Its technology has made its way into over 20 million mobile phones.

So far, both companies have remained mum on legal matter and Apple's plans for AuthenTec's IP.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

Tags: mobile, Apple, mobile commerce

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