United States: The Smart Phone Patent Saga Continues

Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., et al.

In a case involving suits, countersuits and multiple appeals by the two giants of the mobile phone space, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed a jury's finding of infringement, voiding the accompanying award to Apple of more than $119 million. Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., et al., Case Nos. 015-1171, -1195, -1994 (Fed. Cir., Feb. 26, 2016) (Dyk, J).

In this case's third appeal, the Federal Circuit was asked to deal with "the core infringement and invalidity issues with respect to the asserted patents." At issue were five patents asserted by Apple against Samsung (four of which a jury found to be infringed) and two patents asserted by Samsung against Apple (one of which the same jury found to be infringed).

After the district court entered judgment on the jury verdict ($120 million to Apple and $160,000 to Samsung), both sides appealed.

The Apple Patents

With regard to the Apple "click structure" patent, the Federal Circuit found that no reasonable jury could have concluded that the accused Samsung devices included the claimed "analyzer server," and reversed the judgment of infringement. Before trial, neither party sought construction of "analyzer server," agreeing that it should be given its ordinary meaning. On the last scheduled day of the trial, the Federal Circuit construed this term (in the Motorola case) as "a server routine separate from a client that receives data having structures from the client." The district court adopted this construction and permitted the parties to recall their expert witnesses to provide testimony under this construction. However, the Federal Circuit concluded that Apple failed to present sufficient testimony that the accused software library programs in the Samsung phones ran separately from the programs they served (i.e., the Browser and Messenger applications), as required by the Federal Circuit's construction. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit reversed the district court's denial of judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) of non-infringement.

Apple also asserted its "slide to unlock" patent, whereby a user can slide a moving image across the screen with a finger in order to unlock the phone, and its "auto correct" patent, whereby a phone automatically corrects typing errors. At the district court, Samsung sought JMOL that both of these patents were invalid as obvious. The Federal Circuit agreed.

For the "slide to unlock" patent, Apple did not dispute that the prior art combination disclosed all of the claimed features. Rather, Apple argued that the jury could have reasonably found that one of the references taught away from using the "slider toggle" feature, and that a skilled artisan would not have been motivated to combine these references, since the slide toggle reference describes a wall-mounted touch-screen device, not a mobile phone. The Federal Circuit  disagreed, concluding that "[t]he fact that [the prior art reference] notes that users did not prefer the particular design of the slider toggle is not evidence of teaching away." The Federal Circuit reasoned that a motivation to use the teachings of a particular prior art reference need not be supported by a finding that the feature is the "preferred, or the most desirable" option.

The Federal Circuit also concluded that no reasonable jury could find that the reference is not analogous art since it concerned user interfaces for touch-screen devices, noting that the asserted patent and the reference both disclose essentially the same structure: a touch-screen device with software that allows the user to slide his or her finger across the screen to change interface states.

The Federal Circuit also dismissed Apple's secondary considerations argument, noting that although Apple identified the unsolved problem as the lack of an "intuitive" method of unlocking a touch-screen portable device, it provided no evidence showing that the asserted need was recognized in the industry. With respect to industry praise, the Court noted that evidence of approval by Apple fans—who may or may not have been skilled in the art—is not legally sufficient.

With respect to copying, the Federal Circuit noted the only evidence of copying went to an unlock mechanism using a fixed starting and ending point for the slide—a feature disclosed in the prior art. Finally, with respect to commercial success, the Federal Circuit reasoned that Apple's evidence was not sufficient to show a "nexus" between the patented feature and the commercial success of the iPhone. Accordingly, the evidence of secondary considerations was insufficient as a matter of law to overcome the prima facie obviousness case.

Apple also asserted its "universal search" patent that permits a user to search for results from both the phone and the internet based on a single search term. On appeal, the issue was whether the search feature on the Samsung phones "locates" information on the internet. The district court found that Samsung devices do not search the internet, but rather blend data previously retrieved from a Google server and a local database. Apple argued that the plain meaning of the claim covered search information previously downloaded from the internet, a construction the  district court denied. The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court's denial.

The Samsung Patents

Samsung asserted a patent directed to capturing, compressing and transmitting videos. In its claim construction order, the district court construed "means for transmission"—a means-plus-function claim limitation—to require software in addition to hardware. Samsung argued that the district court erred in its construction because the specification did not "require any software for transmission, and including such software [in addition to hardware] as necessary structure was error." The Federal Circuit agreed with the district court that the term "transmission" implies communication from one unit to another, and the specification explains that software is necessary to enable such communication. The Federal Circuit noted that software is necessary because hardware alone does nothing without software instructions telling it what to do, and affirmed the district court's construction of the term and the judgment of non-infringement.

As for Samsung's patent directed to a camera system for compressing, decompressing and organizing digital files, the jury found that Apple had infringed, and the district court denied Apple's post-trial motion for JMOL of non-infringement. Apple argued that no reasonable jury could have found that the Apple products met the "compressor" and "decompressor" limitations of the claim because these limitations require components that compress or decompress both still images and videos, and its products use separate and distinct components to compress and decompress still images and videos. The Federal Circuit rejected this argument, finding that Samsung presented testimony that identified a single Apple design chip with circuitry that performs compressing/decompressing methods for both images and videos.

Practice Note: Assuming this decision resolves the utility patent fight, the only remaining battle shifts to the Supreme Court of the United States, which has now agreed to hear Samsung's appeal on the issue of damages in connection with design patent infringement. See Cert Alert in this issue of IP Update.

The Smart Phone Patent Saga Continues

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