Thursday, May 3, 2018

Apple and Intel jointly seeking invalidation of Qualcomm patent asserted against iOS Spotlight search

In the previous post I mentioned today's Qualcomm v. Apple hearing (Munich I Regional Court). Just before going to the courthouse I checked on the EPO register and found something interesting: one of the four patents-in-suit was just granted last year, and a result, it was still possible for Apple and Intel to file a timely notice of opposition with the European Patent Office:

Apple filed its notice of opposition on March 2, 2018; Intel followed three days later, raising the same substantive issues. Both Apple and Intel are represented by Samson &Partner. On Qualcomm's behalf, Quinn Emanuel's Dr. Marcus Grosch is trying to defend the patent against those requests for revocation.

The other three patents-in-suit are from the same family. But they were granted before, making nullity actions in the Federal Patent Court the only option for invalidation. It would be extremely surprising if Apple hadn't filed nullity complaints, and if Apple and Intel are brothers-in-arms in the EPO, that is likely also the case in the Federal Patent Court. I'm tempted to file a request with the Federal Patent Court for access to the case files, as I did in other cases (including one in which I had to overcome Samsung's opposition to my petition).

At a February hearing in another Munich Qualcomm v. Apple case, it was mentioned that some additional infringement claims had been added in the form of an amended complaint. One of the public attachments to Apple and Intel's opposition filings is an excerpt (the first two pages and the last page) from the related amendment, and indeed, the case number is that of one of the two cases heard in February.

Dr. Grosch mentioned the word "spotlights" at the Febraury hearing. At first I thought this was going to be about photo editing, given that Qualcomm is asserting a related patent in a U.S. case. However, having looked at the patents-in-suit and also the opposition filing with the EPO, a connection with digital imaging can be ruled out. I asked a member of my app development team, who then told me that Spotlight is known to him as a search feature (for local documents) on the Mac. The Wikipedia article I just linked to explains that the same technology was added to iOS at some point. The scope of the patents-in-suit is more about mobile than desktops. Maybe Qualcomm is also going after macOS, but there can be no doubt that mobile devices (iPhone, maybe also iPad) are being accused. The opposition filing cites prior art that is all about personal digital assistants and other mobile communications devices.

If I understood this correctly from what I read on the Internet, a typical Spotlight feature that iPhone users would know is the completion of a phone number: you start typing, and if you've previously dialed a number starting with the same digits, it's offered as an autocomplete option. Those Qualcomm patents aren't exactly search patents, but they relate to the combination of some user interface where different options are presented and the selection of and switching between communications channels.

The claims appear extremely broad to me--like the worst Nokia patents-in-suit I've seen, but those Nokia patents at least tended to be much older.

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