By Thomas Long, J.D.
Substantial evidence supported a jury’s verdict that wireless device maker LG infringed asserted claims of two patents covering improved user interfaces for devices with small screens, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has held. The appellate court affirmed a decision of the federal district court in Marshall, Texas, denying LG’s motion for summary judgment on grounds of ineligibility under 35 U.S.C. §101, as well as the district court’s denial of LG’s post-verdict motions for judgment as a matter of law that the claims were invalid as anticipated by prior art and for noninfringement. Circuit Judge Wallach dissented in part because, in his view, the district court incorrectly construed a key claim term and should reconsider the issues of anticipation and infringement based on the correct construction (Core Wireless Licensing, S.A.R.L v. LG Electronics, Inc., January 25, 2018, Moore, K.).
Core Wireless Licensing S.A.R.L. was a Luxembourg-based patent assertion entity wholly-owned by Conversant Intellectual Property Management Inc. Core sued LG Electronics, Inc., and LG Electronics MobileComm U.S.A., Inc. (collectively, "LG") for infringing claims of U.S. Patent Nos. 8,434,020 ("the ’020 patent") and 8,713,476 ("the ’476 patent"), both of which disclosed interface techniques used to access various functions of mobile device applications. The accused devices were LG phones sold in the United States since April 2013 that implemented the Jelly Bean, KitKat, and Lollipop versions of the Android operating system.
After the district court denied LG’s eligibility challenge, the case proceeded to trial, and the jury found all asserted claims infringed and not invalid. LG moved for judgment as a matter of law of noninfringement, arguing that the verdict was based on incorrect construction of two claim terms. The district court declined to revisit claim construction because LG had failed to preserve its arguments. The district court also determined that the jury had enough evidence to reasonably find infringement, and that the jury was not required to credit LG’s expert witness’s testimony regarding anticipation. LG appealed.
Patent-eligibility. The district court decided that the asserted claims were not directed to an abstract idea. Even if LG’s characterization of the claims as directed to "displaying an application summary window while the application is in an unlaunched state" was correct, the concepts of "application," "summary window," and "unlaunched state" were specific to devices like computers and cell phones. LG identified no analog to these concepts outside the context of such devices. Furthermore, the district court stated that even if the claims were directed to an abstract idea, they would still be patent eligible because they passed the machine-or-transformation test.
According to the Federal Circuit, the asserted claims were directed to an improved user interface for computing devices, not to the abstract idea of an index, as argued by LG. "Although the generic idea of summarizing information certainly existed prior to the invention, these claims are directed to a particular manner of summarizing and presenting information in electronic devices," the court said. Claim 1 of the ’476 patent—which was representative of all claims at issue—required "an application summary that can be reached directly from the menu," specifying a particular manner by which the summary window must be accessed. The claim contained other limitations disclosing a specific manner of displaying a limited set of information to the user, rather than using conventional user interface methods to display a generic index on a computer. The specification confirmed this interpretation of the claim scope. The disclosed invention improved the efficiency of using the electronic device by bringing together "a limited list of common functions and commonly accessed stored data," which can be accessed directly from the main menu. Therefore, the patents did not claim an ineligible abstract idea and were patentable under Section 101.
Anticipation. LG argued that it was entitled to judgment on the issue of invalidity because its expert established that the asserted claims were anticipated by U.S. Patent No. 6,415,164 ("Blanchard"). Blanchard taught a display screen for mobile phones that "provides an arrangement for dynamically varying how space on a small display is allocated for presentation of various types of user information." It disclosed hierarchical menu screens displaying a series of selectable sub-level menu choices through which a user can cycle. LG argued on appeal that Core Wireless based its arguments distinguishing the asserted claims from Blanchard during closing argument and post-trial briefing on elements not recited by the asserted claims. LG also contended that, because it presented a prima facie case of anticipation and Core Wireless failed to present any affirmative evidence in rebuttal, it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law that Blanchard anticipated the asserted claims. The appellate court disagreed.
The patents were entitled to a presumption of validity, and the burden of establishing invalidity by clear and convincing evidence rested on LG as the party asserting invalidity. Therefore, granting judgment as a matter of law for the party carrying the burden of proof was generally "reserved for extreme cases," such as when the opposing party’s witness made a key admission. This was not an example of such an extreme case, the Federal Circuit said. Although LG presented the only expert testimony regarding anticipation, Core Wireless cross-examined the expert and illuminated for the jury reasons why his opinion was incorrect. A reasonable jury could have heard the cross-examination and reached the conclusion that Blanchard did not disclose the asserted patents’ "limited list" limitation because the expert testified during cross-examination that a user could access all of the functions in Blanchard by keying down within the summary display window disclosed by that patent. Accordingly, the Federal Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of judgment as a matter of law on anticipation.
Infringement. LG presents two noninfringement arguments on appeal. First, LG argued that the correct construction of the claim term "unlaunched state" was "not running," rather than "not displayed" as the district court held, and the accused devices did not infringe under its proposed construction. Second, LG argued that no reasonable jury could find that the accused devices satisfied the claim limitation "reached directly from the [main] menu" because the accused application summary window was reached from the status bar, which was not part of the menu. The Federal Circuit rejected both arguments.
The appellate court saw no error in the district court’s construction of "unlaunched state" to mean "not displayed." This construction encompassed applications that were not running at all and applications that were running in the background. The construction found support in the specification, in which "display" and "launch" were used to convey that a particular view was displayed to the user. The prosecution history also supported the district court’s construction, the appellate court said. In addition, substantial evidence supported the jury’s verdict of infringement based on the "reached directly from the [main] menu" claim limitation. The jury heard conflicting evidence regarding whether the status bar was part of the accused "home screen." This is a fact question that the court presumed the jury resolved in favor of Core Wireless. In the LG user manual, the status bar was the first section of the view identified as the home screen. The jury was also entitled to credit testimony on this issue by Core Wireless’s expert, who testified that when the main menu was displayed and the user pulled down the notification shade, the user reached the accused application summary window directly from the main menu. Therefore, the judgment of infringement was affirmed.
Concurring and dissenting opinion. Circuit Judge Evan J. Wallach wrote separately, concurring-in-part and dissenting-in-part. Judge Wallach agreed with the majority that the claims were patent-eligible. However, Judge Wallach disagreed with the majority’s ruling affirming the district court’s construction of the "unlaunched state" limitation. Judge Wallach would find the term "unlaunched state" to mean "not running," as proposed by LG, and remand the case for review of whether this construction altered the district court’s findings on infringement and anticipation.
The case is No. 2016-2684 and No. 2017-1922.
Attorneys: Benjamin T. Wang (Russ August & Kabat) for Core Wireless Licensing S.A.R.L. Carter Glasgow Phillips (Sidley Austin LLP) for LG Electronics, Inc. and LG Electronics Mobilecomm U.S.A., Inc.
Companies: Core Wireless Licensing S.A.R.L.; LG Electronics, Inc.; LG Electronics Mobilecomm U.S.A., Inc.
MainStory: TopStory Patent TechnologyInternet FedCirNews
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