HTC Europe Co Ltd v Apple Inc, High Court of Justice, Patents Court, London, UK, 4 July 2012, Case No.  EWHC 1789 (Pat)
This case concerns four European patents owned by Apple and asserted against HTC. Floyd J considered the infringement and validity of all four patents.
EP 2 098 948 - Multi touch patent
This patent is concerned with technical issues which arise with multi-touch devices, in particular those relating to the need for recognition and differentiation of multi-touch events (requiring complex and expensive software to process those events) and single-touch events (requiring simpler, cheaper software). An example of the technology in question is the ability to zoom in or out by ‘pinching’ or ‘de-pinching’ a touch screen device.
The patent proposes simplifying the recognition of single and multi-touch events by using two types of flags associated with views on the device screen: a multi-touch flag which indicates whether a particular view is allowed to receive multiple simultaneous touches; and an exclusive touch flag which indicates whether a particular view allows other views to receive touch events while the flagged view is receiving a touch.
Apple asserted that several HTC devices (all utilising the Android 2.3 operating system) used a flag which worked in the same way as Apple’s exclusive touch flag, and therefore infringed the patent. Having construed the claims Floyd J held that this was not the case and therefore there was no infringement. Furthermore, claim 1 was obvious – the skilled team tasked with designing an operating system for a multi-touch device would arrive at the invention by routine application of the common general knowledge (although claim 2 survived). However, both claims were invalid because the invention, at least as claimed in claims 1 and 2, was not patentable because it was a computer program as such and therefore constituted excluded subject matter.
EP 1 964 022 - Unlock patent
This patent is concerned with the provision of a user interface on a touch screen device which enables the user to change the state of the device by, for example, dragging an image over the screen. The invention has been commercialised by Apple as the "slide to unlock" feature of its iPhone.
Apple asserted that HTC’s Arc unlock, Ring unlock, and Icon mechanism used in various of its devices infringed this patent. Floyd J held that, if the patent was valid, the Arc unlock mechanism infringed the patent because its display of chevrons and the words “drag down to unlock” amounted to a predefined displayed path as claimed in the patent. However, HTC’s Ring unlock and Icon features did not have a displayed path and therefore did not infringe the patent.
In any event, although the patent survived added matter and excluded subject matter attacks (the invention was held to provide a technical effect outside the computer – an improved switch), Floyd J held that the claims infringed by HTC’s Arc unlock feature were invalid for both lack of novelty and lack of inventive step.
EP 2 059 868 - Photo management patent
The claims of this patent were to a particular process of swiping an image in a photo gallery on a touch device, whereby a first swipe would bring the image across and reveal 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), and then a second swipe would cause the first image to be replaced by a second image.
However, 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. Floyd J therefore construed the claims such that the two-swipe feature related only to a zoomed-in mode within a picture gallery, and as HTC's picture gallery application did not work in this way there was no infringement.
On Floyd J’s narrow construction, the patent was nevertheless held to be valid.
EP 1 168 859 - Multi-language text patent
This patent is concerned with the storage of multi-lingual alphabets such that a user can choose an alphabet to use and the phone will allow the user to select the correct characters for composing an SMS text message in that language.
Floyd J held that HTC infringed this patent. However, whilst not invalid for excluded subject matter (the SMS messaging capability produces an effect outside the computer that is enough to take the invention outside the exclusion) the patent was found to be invalid for obviousness.
Read the entire decision (in English) here.
Head note: Scott Parker