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Federal Circuit Extends §101 to Cover Graphical User Interfaces in Core Wireless v. LG

In Core Wireless Licensing S.A.R.L. v. LG Electronics, Inc., 2016-2684, 2017-1922 (Fed. Cir. Jan. 23, 2018), a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Moore, O’Malley, Wallach) upheld patent claims directed to a graphical user interface under 35 U.S.C. §101, concluding that the claims were not directed to a patent-ineligible abstract idea.

Core Wireless brought an action against LG in the Eastern District of Texas alleging infringement of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,713,476 and 8,434,020, having claims dealing with an application summary screen that is displayed while the one or more applications summarized are in an un-launched state. The District Court denied summary judgment based on 35 U.S.C. §101, and LG appealed.

The Federal Circuit began its analysis by determining that the claims of the two patents in question were directed to an “improved user interface,” a non-abstract idea, rather than the abstract idea of an index. Specifically, these claims were “directed to a particular manner of summarizing and presenting information in electronic devices.” For example, claim 1 required “an application summary that can be reached directly from the menu” and further limiting the application summary (such as having the application summary list a limited set of data with each of the data in the list being selectable to launch the respective application and enable the selected data to be seen within the respective application) as well as a particular manner of accessing the summary window and certain other limitations.

The Court analogized the case to other cases in which a computer-implemented claim was found eligible, such as Enfish, LLC v. Microsoft Corp., Thales Visionix Inc. v. U.S., Visual Memory LLC v. NVIDIA Corp., and Finjan, Inc. v. Blue Coat Systems, Inc., specifically noting that the claims in each of these cases were found to improve a computer or technological system, and were thus not abstract. (Just like in many of these cases, the Court looked to the patent specifications in order to determine what aspects of a computer the claims were directed toward improving.)

Once the §101 matter was resolved, the Court also heard the issue of non-infringement. This turned, in large part, on the Court’s interpretation of the phrase “unlaunched state” in the claims, which LG had (unsuccessfully) argued in the District Court should refer to a situation in which the applications were “not running” rather than “not displayed.” LG argued that it would not infringe if the applications were required to be “not running.” The court (minus Judge Wallach, who dissented on this point) sided with the District Court, finding that the District Court correctly construed “unlaunched state” as “not displayed.”

Importantly, the claims in this case were considered to be an improvement to computer technology because they improved the ability of a user to use the computer. In order to use prior art systems, users had to “drill down through many layers to get to desired data or functionality [which] could seem slow, complex and difficult to learn, particularly to novice users,” while the claimed invention, by contrast, was much more user-friendly. This effectively adds “user-friendliness” or “usability” to the list of innovations which can be an improvement to computer technology, significantly expanding the list of patent-eligible subject matter.

It has also historically been a little unclear as to how graphical user interface designs can be protected by intellectual property rights. There is a circuit split between the Ninth Circuit and other circuits as to whether GUIs are copyrightable subject matter, and past Federal Circuit jurisprudence as to their patentability has come down on both sides of the line. However, the vast majority of cases (such as, for example, Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Erie Indemnity Co., Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Capital One Bank (USA), and Internet Patents Corp. v. Active Network, Inc.) have found GUIs to be ineligible, while the one case that upheld a GUI patent claim (Trading Technologies Int’l v. CQG Inc) was a non-precedential opinion that dealt with an extremely detailed claim. This case provides applicants with a clear model to follow for future applications on interface technology or any similar technology.

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