Thursday, December 23, 2010

Hopewell Culture & Design sues Apple, top four Android device makers, Nokia, Adobe, Palm, Opera and Quickoffice over a user interface patent

Oh well, Hopewell: a company named Hopewell Culture & Design just filed one of those one-patent-against-many-defendants type of suits. The company -- about which Google hasn't indexed anything except for a few references to this patent suit -- holds a user interface patent and yesterday filed a complaint with the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, asserting it against 11 defendants: Apple, the top four Android device makers -- Motorola, Samsung (two different Samsung entities are named), HTC, LG --, Nokia, Adobe, Palm, Opera and Quickoffice.

The company seeks injunctive relief and monetary damages for what it claims to be infringements of US Patent No. 7,171,625 on "double-clicking a point-and-click user interface apparatus to enable a new interaction with content represented by an active visual display element". The application was filed on 18 June 2002 and assigned to Actify, a San Francisco-based software company specialized in computer-aided design (CAD). The nature of the relationship between Actify and Hopewell Culture & Design is unclear at this stage.

Having read the description of the patent and the infringement allegation against each of the defendants ("software allowing a user to double click or double tap a visual element representing interactive content and interact with a second version of the interactive content"), I wouldn't be surprised if the defendants managed to present prior art. By the time the application was filed (mid 2002), graphical user interfaces already provided functionality that one could consider similar to this technique. This suit may make unlikely bedfellows in terms of companies suing each other over patents (Apple has disputes with Nokia, HTC and Motorola going) but possibly deciding to cooperate to invalidate this patent asserted against all of them and so many others. Prior art is always a difficult question of law whether there was still some inventive step involved that justified the grant of a new patent. That's why most of the time I refrain from commenting on prior art questions at all unless they are raised in a substantiated form in official documents filed with courts.

The accused products are: Adobe Reader, iPhone, iPad, four Android-based HTC smartphones (Droid Eris, Droid Incredible, Hero, EVO), LG Envy Touch (this may mean the original LG enV Touch but could also include the announced, Android-based LG enV Touch 2), two Android-based Motorola phones (Droid and Droid X), two relatively new Nokia phones (N900 and N97), the Opera Mini browser for mobile devices, the Palm Pre, the Quickoffice Connect Mobile Suite software (available for several operating systems), and two Samsung phones (the Android-based Captivate and the Rogue, which runs proprietary Samsung software).

So the flood of mobile patent suits continues. I didn't even report on another suit filed on Tuesday: Wireless Recognition Technologies LLC sued Nokia and others (also in the Eastern District of Texas) over US Patent No. 7,856,474 on a "method and apparatus for identifying documents using a handheld device". In Nokia's case, the infringement allegation targets its Point & Find mobile application, which is an augmented reality browser, and while it appears to be an app as opposed to pre-installed software, the plaintiff broadly accuses any "Nokia's cellular phones capable of using Nokia's Point and Find mobile application". Yesterday I reported on Hybrid Audio LLC's suit against Apple, HTC and Dell, and the day before on a complaint filed by Alcatel-Lucent subsidiary Multimedia Patent Trust against Apple, LG, Canon and TiVo.

Of the four new mobile suits I've already reported on this week, the Multimedia Patent Trust case is probably going to be the most interesting one because there's a large and powerful organization behind it, the company has previously litigated against the MPEG world and its dog, and it asserts multiple patents. But I'll keep an eye on some "smaller" cases as well since any of them could have major implications further down the road, even if they may not appear frightening, much less shocking, at the outset.

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