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Fed. Cir. Affirms, Reverses Claims in MobileMedia Suit Against Apple

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By Mark Wilson, Esq. on March 19, 2015 1:23 PM

Another day, another patent infringement suit with Apple on the other side of the "v." This time, the plaintiff is a patent licensing company, but slightly different than what we typically see from those kinds of entities.

MobileMedia is a patent licensing company formed by MPEG LA, Nokia, and Sony -- in other words, not one-off companies that make all their money from patent settlements. MobileMedia claimed that Apple's iPhone infringed on 16 of its patents. A jury found that Apple did infringe, but following a renewed motion for JMOL, the district court reversed some parts of the verdict.

It Takes Skill to Put a Phone and a Camera Together

On appeal, only four patents were at issue. One was a claim in one patent related to a camera phone; the others were a patent on a method for "call handling" (simple functions like pushing a button put someone on hold), a patent on a method for rejecting an incoming call, and a patent on silencing a ringtone for an incoming call without letting the caller know.

Yes, all of these are features common not only to the iPhone but to basically every other smartphone on the market. Apple, though, has over $100 billion in cash, so of course it would be the logical target of a patent suit.

On the issue of the camera phone, Apple claimed the patent was invalid because putting a mobile phone, processor, and camera together would have been obvious to someone with ordinary skill. The Federal Circuit disagreed, siding with the jury on this one: The level of skill required to combine a phone, microprocessor, and a camera would have required more than ordinary skill back in the '90s when this patent was filed. Plus, the standard of review on this claim is whether the jury's verdict was supported by substantial evidence, which is a pretty high bar.

Nevertheless, the Federal Circuit agreed with the trial court that Apple's implementation of a camera phone in the iPhone exceeds what's described in the patent, meaning no infringement.

That's So Obvious

The Federal Circuit also said the call handling claim was obvious because it required one button, instead of two, as recited by a previous patent. The court agreed that developing a way to use a single button to bring up a call handling menu was, indeed, obvious.

Similarly, the court said the patent on call rejection was obvious because it did little more than combine two extant protocols in the GSM standard -- something that a person of ordinary skill could have figured out.

Finally, the court reversed a grant of non-infringement on silencing the ringtone and remanded to the district court because of faulty claim construction. The Federal Circuit interpreted the claims in the patent to mean that the phone stops the sound and reduces the volume of the sound. The district court had interpreted the "stop the sound" in the patent to render stopping the sound and reducing the volume interchangeable.

In the end, Apple won about three-and-a-half of the four claims on appeal in this case, but the battle for Apple's money isn't over -- no, not by a long shot.

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