Thursday, February 7, 2019

USPTO and EPO post-grant reviews: Intel is beating the living daylights out of Qualcomm's envelope tracker patent

There's only been bad news for Qualcomm's envelope tracker patent family this week. So bad in fact that it's impossible to understand why Qualcomm made a $1.5 billion deposit last month to enforce an injunction in Germany that lacks legitimacy and teeth at the same time.

On Tuesday, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California considered it a crystal-clear case that Qorvo's envelope tracker chip found in certain iPhone models doesn't infringe. That's why Judge Dana M. Sabraw entered summary judgment against Qualcomm's related infringement claim. There wasn't even a point in presenting an extremely far-fetched infringement theory to a jury. Previously, the ITC had held the patent non-infringed as well. In the combination of the ITC and San Diego (Qualcomm's hometown) rulings, there is every reason to assume that the German injunction is a monumental miscarriage of justice, and Qualcomm will likely lose some part of its $1.5 billion deposit if there's no settlement before Apple will be able to seek wrongful-enforcement damages.

Also on Tuesday, German website scooped everyone by finding out from resellers that Apple will apparently have a workaround ready in a month's time. It's illustrative of the utter absurdity of the envelope tracker SNAFU that a workaround would have to be created, replacing a non-infringing (in all likelihood, given the two U.S. decisions) chip. Contrary to what some people on the Internet appear to think, it's not an admission. It's simply that, should be right (which I tend to believe it is), any infringement allegations by Qualcomm against the modified variants of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8 would require a whole new determination on the merits, while a contempt proceeding involving the previously adjudicated chipset could be decided against Apple if the court relied on its agnostic--by now, most likely counterfactual--infringement finding again. If the standard in a contempt proceeding required Qualcomm to prove an actual infringement, a workaround would most likely not be needed, but the court might favor the same approach once again and adopt Qualcomm's attorneys' fiction. As the saying goes, discretion is the better part of valor.

Yesterday--Wednesday--delivered the next round of bad news for that Qualcomm patent. Technically it's U.S.-only news, but due to major overlaps it also has important implications for an opposition proceeding before the European Patent Office, which will hold an opposition hearing on May 24 (chairman: Manuel Pav√≥n Mayo; 1st examiner: Ali Hijazi; 2nd examiner: Thomas Agerbaek). The U.S. inter partes review no. IPR2018-01154 targeting claims 15-20 of the U.S. envelope tracker patent is most interesting in this regard as the claims and the prior art references are most similar to the issues before the EPO's opposition division.

The Patent Trial and Appeal Board (PTAB) of the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO), which had previously instituted two inter partes reviews of the envelope tracker patent, yesterday granted two more petitions, resulting in a total of four IPRs targeting this patent, with each proceeding relating to a different set of claims. The following screenshot shows the status of Intel's four IPR petitions, all four of which have given rise to post-grant reviews by now (click on the image to enlarge; this post continues below the image):

In light of the Supreme Court's SAS ruling, which requires the PTAB to either review all challenged claims or none, the partitioning of Intel's validity attack on the envelope tracker patent makes the four decisions on institution even more meaningful. Otherwise, if a single petition had challenged all claims, the PTAB might have granted a review theoretically because of a single claim being reasonably likely to be invalidated. But since Intel's lawyers (from the Wilmer Hale firm) challenged four sets of claims separately, we now know that the USPTO sees a reasonable likelihood of invalidation for multiple claims, and probably even for all claims.

The petitions were all filed in late June, i.e., after the SAS decision, and Intel presumably sought to avoid a situation in which the PTAB would be scared away by a monolithic petition targeting all claims at once if there had been a strong case for invalidation with respect to maybe just one or two claims. But by now we know it was a non-issue. The patent has a huge validity problem.

Should a constitutional law professor (who happens to be the chairman of the board of directors of an organization that has been supporting Qualcomm for some time now) be right and the ITC actually has to conduct a retrial with respect to Qualcomm's first ITC complaint against Apple, the envelope tracker patent would be relitigated, but the likelihood of the ITC deeming the asserted claims invalid would be higher next time around.

Since there will be news from those IPRs sooner or later, I'd like to help everyone navigate the four IPRs by providing an overview of what prior art references are held against what claims in what proceeding:

IPR2018-01153 (claims 1-9) -- instituted on 01/16/19

Intel's petition (PDF)

Claim 1: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Myers

Claim 2: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Myers

Claim 3: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Myers

Claim 4: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Myers

Claim 5: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Myers

Claim 6: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 (if necessary, + Myers)

Claim 7: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Myers

Claim 8: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 (if necessary, + Myers)

Claim 9: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Myers

IPR2018-01240 (claims 10&11) -- instituted on 02/06/19

Intel's petition (PDF)

Claim 10: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Hanington

Claim 11: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 + Hanington + Myers

IPR2018-01152 (claims 12-14) -- instituted on 01/16/19

Intel's petition (PDF)

Claim 12: anticipated by Chu

Claim 13: obvious over Chu + Choi 2010 (if necessary, + Myers)

Claim 14: anticipated by Chu, or obvious over Chu + Blanken

IPR2018-01154 (claims 15-20) -- instituted on 02/06/19 and most relevant to the European proceeding

Intel's petition (PDF)

Claim 15: anticipated by Kwak

Claim 16: obvious over Kwak

Claim 17: anticipated by Kwak

Claim 18: anticipated by Kwak

Claim 19: obvious over Kwak + Choi 2010

Claim 20: anticipated by Kwak

Before the EPO, Intel attacks the relevant European claims as being anticipated by a prior art reference named Hou, but also argues that they're obvious over Kwak + Kim, or alternatively over Stauth + Tanabe. Further reference is made in Intel's European opposition brief to prior art references named Midya, Lee, Wu, Mathe, Kim, Kang, and Chu.

Finally, here's Intel's European opposition brief (Appled raised the same issues and is represented by the same Samson & Partner patent attorneys):

Intel Opposition to EP27244... by on Scribd

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