Addressing indirect infringement and claim construction issues, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the district court on three of the four patents at issue, finding that it applied the wrong standard for indirect infringement and improperly imported limitations into the claims. Unwired Planet, LLC v. Apple Inc., Case No. 15-1725 (Fed. Cir., July 22, 2016) (Moore, J). 

Unwired Planet sued Apple for patent infringement of patents concerning cell phone communication systems. The district court granted summary judgment of no indirect infringement on one patent and non-infringement on three others. 

With respect to indirect infringement, the district court granted summary judgment because it found Apple’s non-infringement argument sufficiently strong that no reasonable juror could conclude that Apple knew or was willfully blind to infringement. But, as the Federal Circuit explained, the doctrine of willful blindness—which may be used to show knowledge—requires the accused infringer to “subjectively believe that there was a high risk of infringement” and to take “deliberate actions to avoid confirming infringement.” Here, the district court erred by basing its decision on an objective estimation of the strength of Apple’s case rather than Apple’s subjective knowledge of the patent. 

The Federal Circuit also reversed the district court’s summary judgment of non-infringement for two of the patents. With respect to the first patent, the district court erred by importing requirements into the claim that went beyond the ordinary and customary meaning. Specifically, the district court relied on the description of the invention in the specification to find that the claimed “voice input” must be transmitted over a voice channel rather than a data channel. But the claims themselves did not imply any particular transmission method, and there was no evidence of a clear and unmistakable disclaimer. As the Federal Circuit explained, although the “summary of the invention” in the specification included the phrase “the present invention relates” before describing voice inputs using voice channels, this phrase alone does not amount to a disclaimer. 

For the second patent, the district court ruled that “user information” exchanged between the server and phone must always be identical and that Apple avoided infringement by reformatting the user’s password through encryption or “hashing.” The Federal Circuit again reversed, finding that the term “user information” referred to “information, knowledge, or data on a user” contained within the transmission, regardless of format. Although the hashed format could not be reversed or decrypted to determine the information it represented, the relevant inquiry was whether the information was present—a question of fact for a jury that was not appropriate for summary judgment. 

For the third patent, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment of non-infringement based on a stipulated construction of “narrowband channel” as a channel with a “lower data transfer rate . . . than the wideband channel.” Here, Unwired argued that Apple effectively used a narrowband because certain data transmissions were smaller than typical wideband. The Federal Circuit, however, found that it was the transmission speed, not the data size, that controlled whether the limitation was met.