In HTC Europe Ltd and another v Apple Corporation  EWHC 1789 (Pat), on 4 July the High Court of England and Wales declared three Apple patents to be invalid: two patents cover aspects of touch-screen technology, including the “swipe to unlock” feature, and the third provides the ability to change languages for text messages. If they had been valid, they would have been infringed by the mobile phones produced by HTC. A fourth patent, which relates to manipulation of photographs on the screen by gestures, was held to be valid but not infringed.
In his decision, Floyd J considered the infringement and validity of all four patents.
Patent: Multi-Touch Patent
This patent was concerned with technical issues that arise with multi-touch devices, in particular those relating to the need for recognition and differentiation of multi-touch events. The patent proposed simplifying the recognition of single and multi-touch events by using two types of flags associated with views on the device screen.
Apple asserted that several HTC devices use a flag that works in the same way as Apple’s touch flag and therefore infringed the patent. Floyd J held that Apple’s invention was not patentable as it was a computer program and as such constituted excluded subject matter.
Patent 2: Unlock Patent
This patent concerned Apple’s “swipe to unlock” feature of its iPhone. Floyd J held that, even though the patent survived added matter and excluded subject matter attacks (the invention was held to produce a technical effect outside the computer), it was still invalid for both lack of novelty and lack of inventive step.
Patent 3: Multi-Language Text Patent
Floyd J held that this patent, which concerned the storage of multi-lingual alphabets, from which the user can choose and the phone will present the correct characters for composing a text message in that language, was invalid for obviousness.
Patent 4: Photo Management Patent
The patent involves a particular swiping feature for images in a photo gallery on a touch device. A first swipe brings the image across and reveals an area beyond the edge of that image (with the image returning and the area beyond the edge disappearing once the swipe had been completed). A second swipe causes the first image to be replaced by the second image.
The claims of the patent were based on only a small part of the disclosure in which the first swipe is always performed on a zoomed-in image. Accordingly, Floyd J concluded that even though the patent is valid, it was not infringed by HTC as HTC’s picture gallery application did not work in the same “zoomed-in mode only” way.
The dispute between these parties in the High Court is part of a much wider and ongoing battle across numerous jurisdictions. This ruling may have limited relevance in the ongoing proceedings in the United States, but it is likely to be persuasive in other European countries and in Australia. Apple may also appeal the ruling.