Friday, April 6, 2012

Analysis of Apple's claim construction win over Samsung in Northern California

At the end of this recent post, I already noted that Judge Lucy Koh's claim construction order was favorable to Apple in its litigation with Samsung in the Northern District of California. The case will go to trial in the summer (currently scheduled to start on July 30). Claim construction is an important interim step that provides the jury with guidance as to the meaning of certain terms that appear in patent claims.

Jury trials come with a significant degree of uncertainty, but things are really going well for Apple in this litigation. In particular, it's hard to see that the claim construction order could be used by Samsung to have more than one of Apple's infringement allegations thrown out on summary judgment.

I am now going to sum up Judge Koh's order and its implications for infringement or validity, in the same order in which the order addressed the relevant patents and terms.

Samsung's U.S. Patent No. 7,698,711 on a "multi-tasking apparatus and method in portable terminal"

Samsung wanted "applet" to be interpreted as "a small application designed to run within another program", while Apple proposed "an operating system-independent computer program that runs within an application module". The word "small" in Samsung's proposal was not deemed practical: even Samsung itself couldn't define what "small" would mean in this context. So the dispute was about Apple's narrower and Samsung's broader terms for the program in which an applet is executed ("an application module" vs. "another program") and on Apple's attempt to inject a new limitation, "operating system-independent".

If Apple had successfully narrowed the patent to "operating system-independent" applets, it would have had a good chance of having Samsung's infringement claims based on this patent dismissed on summary judgment. The judge noted that the term "applets" is most commonly used in connection with Java (which is operating system-independent), but on balance didn't see a reason to narrow Samsung's patent accordingly.

Apple succeeded only with the proposal to require execution by "an application module". Theoretically, a defendant can solve the problem that a given patent presents by convincing the court of just one additional limitation. But in this case it appears to me that Apple achieved more of a clarification than an outcome-determinative narrowing, so I believe Apple has only gradually improved its chance of success with a view to the jury trial. (This is a conservative position.)

Apple's U.S. Patent No. 6,493,002 on a "method and apparatus for displaying and accessing control and status information in a computer system"

Judge Posner recently interpreted this toolbar patent in a way that favors Apple. So did Judge Koh, who rejected an attempt by Samsung to narrow the scope of the patent in a way that is similar to what Motorola tried to achieve in Chicago.

Apple's U.S. Patent No. 7,469,381 on "list scrolling and document translation, scaling, and rotation on a touch-screen display"

This is the patent I once called "Apple's favorite make-Android-awkward patent" because of the overscroll bounceback effect it covers. But it also has claims that cover other forms of multitouch scrolling operations, and some of those appear to be harder to work around.

The disputed term is "edge of [an or the] electronic document". Apple said that no construction was necessary and wanted "edge" to mean only an external edge of a document, while Samsung successfully argued that one document can be embedded in another. In this case, Apple preferred the narrower meaning, and the motive must be to avoid invalidation of dependent claim 14 and possibly other claims.

Judge Koh didn't like Samsung's idea of defining "edge" as "boundary".

On the bottom line, Samsung has made significant progress, and the fight over its invalidity defense will be interesting.

Apple's U.S. patent 7,663,607 on a "multipoint touchscreen"

This patent would be Apple's most powerful multitouch hardware patent if the courts interpreted it the way Apple proposes. But Judge Koh refused to interpret "glass member" in a way that would include "plastic material" as an alternative. In her opinion, the patent document does not define "glass member" to include other material than glass.

This is bad luck for Apple since the distinction between glass and plastic material has nothing to do with the essence of the claimed invention. But based on this interpretation, Samsung is in much better shape to defend itself. I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple withdraw the patent while reserving the right to reassert it in case an appeals court arrives at a more Apple-friendly interpretation. Apple must do something to narrow this case, and in recent weeks and months, it appears that Apple was quite willing to drop patents after claim construction. In this case, it might happen as well.

Apple's U.S. Patent No. 7,812,828 on "ellipse fitting for multi-touch surfaces"

For the term of "mathematically fitting an ellipse", Apple claimed that no construction was necessary, and Judge Koh agreed. An ITC judge had construed that term in a way I didn't consider helpful (and the ITC affirmed the preliminary ruling). District courts are, however, free to disagree with the ITC on questions of law, and in this case, Samsung cited only a staff recommendation, which Judge Koh decided not to take into account at all. Samsung failed to narrow this term.

For the terms "pixel" and "pixel groups", a narrower definition was in Apple's interest, and Judge Koh adopted "portion of a proximity image that indicates the proximity data measured at one electrode", which is materially consistent with Apple's proposed definition.

Apple's U.S. Patent No. 7,844,915 on "application programming interfaces for scrolling operations"

Samsung wanted to narrow the term "scrolling a window having a view associated with the event object" by specifying a direction and by requiring the said "view" to be "stationary relative to the window". But the judge sided with Apple and determined that no construction was necessary.

Apple's U.S. Patent No. 7,853,891 on a "method and apparatus for displaying a window for a user interface"

The disputed term, "the first window has been displayed independent[ly] from a position of a cursor on the screen", consists of many words, but Samsung's proposal was even more verbose: "There is a mouse pointer or a similar icon that is controlled by a mouse, track ball, or touch pad visible on the screen and the user's movement of the mouse pointer or similar icon does not affect the location of the first window."

As Judge Koh's order notes, Samsung's proposal sought to "impose three additional limitations on the scope of the claim terms". The most striking one is that only three types of input devices ("mouse, track ball, or touch pad") should be allowed -- that would exclude touchscreens, and therefore all of the devices at issue in this litigation. Any of the other two proposed narrowings would also have enhanced Samsung's chances to avoid an infringement finding, or even to have the patent thrown out on summary judgment. But Judge Koh ruled against this, and furthermore defined "cursor" as "an indicator to help a user interact with a display", which eliminates another risk for Apple: otherwise the jury might have applied the term "cursor" much more narrowly.

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