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.


Updates in U.S. Patent Law, April 2017

Federal Circuit Rules that Patent Holder Cannot Evade Patent Marking Statute with Retroactive Statutory Disclaimer

In Rembrandt Wireless Technologies, LP v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., No. 16-1729 (Fed. Cir. 2017), the Federal Circuit determined that a patent holder could not use a retroactive statutory disclaimer to avoid having to fully comply with the patent marking statute.
The relevant statute, 35 U.S.C. § 287, states that “[p]atentees, and persons making, offering for sale, or selling within the United States any patented article for or under them, or importing any patented article into the United States, may give notice to the public that the same is patented” by appropriately marking the patented article. The statute further provides that, “[i]n the event of failure so to mark, no damages shall be recovered by the patentee in any action for infringement, except on proof that the infringer was notified of the infringement and continued to infringe thereafter, in which event damages may be recovered only for infringement occurring after such notice.”
Rembrandt had sued Samsung for infringement of a number of claims of two of its patents, US Patent Nos. 8,023,580 and 8,457,228. During the time period in which Samsung was allegedly infringing, Rembrandt had licensed the ‘580 patent to Zhone Technologies, which manufactured products embodying claim 40 of the patent, which was one of the claims Rembrandt had asserted in litigation. Zhone did not mark these products with the patent number.
Before trial, Samsung moved to limit Rembrandt’s damages on the grounds that Rembrandt did not comply with the marking statute (because the product manufactured by Zhone was not marked) and that Rembrandt was therefore not entitled to damages for infringement of any of the claims of the ‘580 patent for any time period before Samsung was notified of the infringement by the filing of the complaint. In response, Rembrandt withdrew claim 40 from its infringement allegations and filed a statutory disclaimer in the US Patent and Trademark Office to disclaim claim 40.
The District Court accepted Rembrandt’s argument that this statutory disclaimer removed its obligation to mark claim 40, for the reason that “a disclaimed patent claim is treated as if it never existed.” The Federal Circuit disagreed, stating that such an interpretation defeated the purpose of the patent marking statute, because allowing Rembrandt to use a disclaimer to avoid the consequences of its failure undermined the public notice function of the marking statute.
However, the Federal Circuit noted that it has not been resolved whether the marking statute applies on a patent-by-patent basis or on a claim-by-claim basis, and the failure to mark claim 40 may limit only the award of damages based on claim 40. The Federal Circuit elected to remand the case for determination of this issue.

USPTO Design Day 2017

On April 25, 2017, the USPTO held its annual Design Day, a seminar featuring Examiners, Practitioners, and Industrial Designers, to discuss the latest developments in design patents.
Design Day 2017 opened with an introduction of Karen Young, the newly named Director of the Tech Center 2900, which is responsible for all design examination. Director Young shared several key statistics showing increasing interest in design patents. In fiscal year 2016, 40,406 design applications were filed, up from 36,889 in FY 2015. 20,361 applications have already been filed in FY 2017. The current backlog of unexamined applications is 44,578, resulting in a 12.9 month average pendency to first action and a 19.1 month average overall pendency for design applications. To keep up with the increased filings and work toward lowering the current backlog, 29 new design examiners were hired in June 2016, increasing the total number of design examiners to 187. However, over 100 of these examiners are still junior examiners without signatory power.  As a result, clear and consistent communication is critical for effect prosecution.
The day also included updates from speakers on international treaties, best prosecution practices, perspectives from in-house counsel and an industrial designer, case law updates, a discussion of design patents in the fashion industry, and a mock argument demonstrating the implications of prosecution history on the enforceability of design patents after issuance.
Please contact us if you are interested in additional information on particular topics covered at Design Day 2017 or if you have general inquiries regarding design filings in the U.S.

Supreme Court Says Components Can Be “Articles of Manufacture” For Calculating Total Profits

In Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. v. Apple Inc., 580 U. S. ____ (2016), the Supreme Court reversed a damages award of approximately $399 million that had been granted to Apple by the trial court based on a “Total Profits” theory, and remanded the case to the Federal Circuit for reconsideration under its new standard.

In this case, Apple Inc. (“Apple”) had sued Samsung Electronics Co. (“Samsung”) for infringement of various utility and design patents covering its mobile phone technology. A jury found that Samsung infringed Apple’s design and utility patents and diluted Apple’s trade dresses. With regard to the design patent issues, the jury in the lower court case had based their award on a “total profits” calculation as called for by the statute, and awarded Apple approximately $399 million, representing Samsung’s entire profit from the sales of the smartphones that were found to be infringing.

With regard to the design patent issue, the relevant statute governing design patent damages (35 U.S.C. §289) provides that:

Whoever during the term of a patent for a design, without license of the owner, (1) applies the patented design, or any colorable imitation thereof, to any article of manufacture for the purpose of sale, or (2) sells or exposes for sale any article of manufacture to which such design or colorable imitation has been applied shall be liable to the owner to the extent of his total profit, but not less than $250, recoverable in any United States district court having jurisdiction of the parties.

Nothing in this section shall prevent, lessen, or impeach any other remedy which an owner of an infringed patent has under the provisions of this title, but he shall not twice recover the profit made from the infringement.

Samsung appealed the verdict, including the findings of design patent infringement, utility patent infringement, and trade dress dilution, to the Federal Circuit. The Federal Circuit affirmed the award. In relevant part, it concluded that §289 was applicable to the “total profit” of any infringing product incorporating the design feature, because the infringing product (and not just the infringing component) was what would be considered the “article of manufacture.”

However, today, the Supreme Court reversed this decision. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Sotomayor stated that “the relevant ‘article of manufacture’ for arriving at a §289 damages award need not be the end product sold to the consumer but may be only a component of that product.” An “article of manufacture,” said the Court, was simply something that was made by hand or by machine, which encompassed both products sold to consumers and components of products sold to consumers.

The Supreme Court justified this decision as consistent with section 171(a) of the Patent Act, which permits “design[s] for an article of manufacture,” and which has long been interpreted by the US Patent and Trademark Office to be applicable to designs for features or components of products as well as complete products. Similarly, section 101 of the Patent Act authorizes patent protection for “any new and useful . . . manufacture,” and has likewise been interpreted to be applicable to features or components of products.

The Supreme Court did not elect to determine whether the “articles of manufacture” at issue in this case were the infringing smartphones or the infringing components or features of the smartphones. Instead, the Supreme Court left it for the Federal Circuit to craft a test for determining whether an “article of manufacture” in a particular case refers to a product sold to a consumer or to a particular component of that product, and to apply that test to determine whether the smartphones or smartphone components were the “article of manufacture.”

While a full analysis of the case’s effects on design patent law will depend on what test the Federal Circuit crafts to determine what is or is not an “article of manufacture,” the Court did strike down the broadest definition of an article of manufacture as necessarily being “the entire infringing product.” This means that, in a design patent litigation, a litigant can no longer automatically expect an award of “total profits” for the end product sold to consumers, and will have to prove entitlement to such an award. Meanwhile, defendants will have more ammunition that they can use in order to reduce the size of a design patent award.