Patents covering iPhone’s slide-to-unlock and auto-correct features found invalid based on obviousness

Apple v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd., et al., Nos. 2015-1171, 2015-1195, 2015-1994 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 26, 2016)

The appeal results from a patent infringement suit and countersuit between Apple and Samsung relating to patents that cover various aspects of the operation of smartphones, including Apple iPhone’s “slide-to-unlock” feature–which allows a user to slide a moving image across the screen of the phone with his/her finger to unlock the phone–and the “autocorrect” feature–which automatically corrects typing errors. After a jury trial, the district court entered a judgment awarding Apple $119,625,000 in damages and ongoing royalties for infringement, while Samsung was awarded $158,400 in damages. Both Apple and Samsung appealed. The Federal Circuit affirmed-in-part and reversed-in-part. The court’s decision voided Apple’s approximately $120 million jury win.  

Apple claimed infringement to patent claims requiring an “analyzer server,” which is a data-structure detection process that automatically identifies items within text such as telephone numbers or dates. On the last day of trial, the Federal Circuit issued a decision in another case—Apple Inc. v. Motorola, Inc., 757 F.3d 1286 (Fed. Cir. 2014)—construing the claim term of “analyzer server” to mean “a server routine separate from a client that receives data having structures from the client.” Although Apple recalled its expert to testify on this new construction, the Federal Circuit found that Apple’s position was based on the claim construction that the court ultimately rejected in Motorola—that the “analyzer server need not be a separate piece of software that runs on its own.” Therefore, the court reversed the jury decision.  

Further, regarding the slide-to-unlock and auto-correction claims, Samsung argued these claims were invalid as obvious over the prior art. Apple did not contest the relevance of the art but instead opposed the patents’ invalidity by presenting evidence of copying, commercial success, industry praise, and satisfying a long-felt but unresolved need. The Federal Circuit found these secondary conditions too weak to overcome the evidence of obviousness based upon the prior art. In particular, the court found that: (1) Apple’s contention of long-felt but unresolved need was nothing more than an unsupported assertion because no evidence was presented to show that the problem was recognized in the industry; (2) approval by Apple fans during the presentation of the iPhone was not legally sufficient, as fans were not necessarily persons that were skilled in the art; (3) Apple’s contention that Samsung copied the iPhone’s unlock mechanism was not accurate, because what was in fact copied was using fixed starting and ending points for the slide, and that this was not shown in the prior art; and (4) Apple’s contention that customers prefer to purchase a device with a slide-to-unlock or an auto-correct feature did not show a nexus to the claimed device when the evidence did not show that the alternative devices that were reviewed did not have comparative features.

A copy of the opinion can be found here.