A lawsuit filed in California holds Apple accountable for the death of a five-year-old girl in an accident that occurred on Christmas Eve of 2014, just north of Dallas, Texas. The lawsuit alleges that Apple had patented but unimplemented technology that could lock out FaceTime to prevent distracted driving.

That patent, filed in 2008 and approved in 2014, would prevent users from activating or using FaceTime while driving, utilizing a motion and scenery analyzer to lock out certain features under certain conditions. This is similar to the limitations that were placed on Pokémon that restricts the game's use while above a certain speed.

The driver involved in the accident admitted to police that he was using Apple's FaceTime app on his iPhone when he collided with the other car. In fact, according to Courthouse News, FaceTime was still running when the police arrived.

The Modisettes, the family of the young girl that was killed, say that Apple either failed to shut off the app or failed to give enough of a warning about how dangerous it is to use FaceTime while driving. The lawsuit claims Apple should be held accountable because it didn't implement the patented lock-out feature.

Whether the claim has merit will be decided in court, but the logic behind the complaint is troubling. Patent protection is an important incentive for companies to innovate, and precedent that requires safety-related patents to be utilized (instead of giving the company the discretion to make that decision) could stifle creativity. It's unclear at this point why Apple decided not to utilize this technology, but it could certainly have valid reasons.

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