California Patent Attorney® Blog

December 2011 Archives

Patent Lawsuits Against Google Related To Android Are Mounting

December 28, 2011,

google.jpgCalifornia - British Telecom, an England-based phone company recently filed suit against Google for its Android smartphone technology. The company claims the Android operating system infringes on six British Telecom patents.

British Telecom filed suit in a Delaware district court and claims that Google Search, Google Maps, Google Music, Android Market, Google Plus, and Adwords infringe on its patents. Adwords, Google's location-based advertising, accounts for a large proportion of its revenues. The damages British Telecom seeks will likely amount to billions of dollars. British Telecom claims some counts should be trebled due to deliberate and willful infringement. In addition, British Telecom seeks injunctions against the sale of infringing products, possibly resulting in Android phones being pulled from store shelves in the United States.

The first patent encompasses a technology allowing Google Music to signal to a user that a certain music service is available depending on the user's location and hot spot connectivity. The second patent allows Google Maps to convey current information such as data about tourism, public transport, and traffic via a handheld device. The third patent is based on user preferences and relates to several Google applications such as Google Maps and Google Search. The fourth patent relates to customer data storage and digital rights, such as user profiles stored on Google's servers that users can access through the Android phone. The fifth patent covers the method by which Google Maps provides users with driving and walking routes. The sixth patent encompasses location-based information used by Google Maps and Google Maps Navigation.

Google also faces patent infringement allegations from Oracle. Android producers Samsung and HTC face suits from Apple and Microsoft. If these suits are successful, Google may have to pay royalties for each Android phone produced and sold. Android phones currently account for forty percent of the company's sales, and 500,000 new phones are activated each day.

Apple Claims Smartphone Infringement, Deals Blow to HTC

December 27, 2011,

apple-logo-gray.jpgCalifornia - The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ordered a ban on HTC handset imports to the United States in a final ruling this week. The ban will take effect on April 19, 2012 allowing wireless carriers to modify their plans.

Apple initially claimed that HTC infringed on several of its patents, but the commission focused on a single patent involved with detecting data. The patent, number 5,946,647, encompasses a "system and method for performing an action on a structure in computer generated data," and was granted in 1999. The technology allows a smartphone user to tap on a recognizable format such as an address or phone number from an e-mail or a website. The phone immediately locates the address on a map or dials the phone number.

Under the ban, the HTC Corporation will still be allowed to import refurbished mobiles to satisfy warranties. The patent will affect a small part of overall phone function and HTC may remove the feature from infringing phones without rendering the entire phone unusable. Other phones may also be affected by the ban.

This ruling is the latest in a larger dispute involving the ITC and federal courts, encompassing HTC and other phone makers who are accusing each other of stealing technology. Apple wants the courts to award damages, and the commission to block imports of infringing products.

HTC is a Taiwan based company with offices in Bellevue, Washington. It developed the G1, the first Android smartphone, and built a market share featuring the company's unique Sense user interface. In an earlier October ruling, the ITC held that the Apple iPhone did not violate four HTC patents. It is the first Android supporting company Apple has targeted, foreshadowing possible future litigation due to a growing threat of Google software affecting the iPhone market.

European Commission Investigating Alleged Patent Ambush By Honeywell And Dupont

December 20, 2011,

automobile.jpgCalifornia - The European Commission is opening an investigation against Dupont Co. and Honeywell International Inc. into whether they concealed patents and patent applications necessary to develop automobile refrigerant, known as Solstice 1234yf, during the development of standards pertaining to that technology. Honeywell and Dupont jointly developed an automobile refrigerant for air conditioning systems for all new cars sold in the European Union (EU) beginning in 2017, replacing the previously-used ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) refrigerant. As the sole providers of this refrigerant, EU antitrust regulators are investigating whether Honeywell and Dupont entered into anti-competitive arrangements over the joint development, licensing, and production of the refrigerant.

Further, EU regulators are also investigating Honeywell after receiving complaints of deceptive conduct with regards to Honeywell's business practices. Honeywell has been accused of not disclosing patents and patent applications to the Society of Automobile Engineers when developing the standards for the automobile refrigerant and failing to grant licenses on fair and reasonable terms.

Complainants allege Honeywell has committed a patent ambush which occurs when a company withholds relevant information to a standard-setting organization creating a standard in favor of the withholding company. Any company wishing to license the productwould have to pay a substantial royalty, effectively creating a barrier to entry into the market.

French company Arkema filed a complaint with EU regulators in April, 2011 arguing that Honeywell and Dupont did not engage in fair and reasonable negotiations for licensing the automobile refrigerant. Arkema said in a statement, "Arkema will continue to fully collaborate to the investigation which purpose of which is to clarify the legal environement related to Honeywell andDupont`s patents."

EU Competition [Antitrust] Commissioner Joaquin Almunia stated, he wanted to make sure that intellectual property rights "are used to reward inventions and motivate innovation and not as tools to foreclose access for expansion in markets."

Honeywell's spokesperson Peter Dalpe, maintains that the company's actions were compliant with the law and that "the Commission will conclude that we acted in full compliance with European Union competition rules." Dupont also contends that its actions complied with the law and that they will cooperate with the investigation.

If found in violation of European antitrust laws, Honeywell and Dupont could be fined up to 10 percent of yearly sales or required to change business practices that harm competition.

Granted Amazon Patent that Predicts Your Movements Has Marketing Purposes

December 15, 2011,

escalator.jpgCalifornia - Amazon was recently granted a patent that allows them not only to track where users have recently been but predict where they may go in the future. The system analyzes the past and current locations of the user, and based on this information, it predicts a likely next destination of the user.

Next, it communicates this next likely destination to marketers who then can relay advertising content to the user whether via their mobile device or flashing billboards. The ads that appear will be based on the demographics of the user. To ensure maximum visibility, the ads will also take into account the speed and mode of travel of the user so advertising appears at the expected time the user reaches a given marketing point. For example, if you are a middle-aged parent walking in a mall and you have already passed by one portion of a mall, ads might start popping up on your phone for stores that sell children's clothing or home goods that you have yet to pass. Information of where the user comes from and is likely to go next could be stored in a database and better predict where others may go in the future for more targeted marketing.

While Amazon's purpose is to better target ads and coupons to the user, at what point does infringing on a person's right to privacy become worth the savings of a coupon? Amazon has yet to release information that allows users to block this information or even more specifically, block ads from companies and stores they wish not to patronage.

Further, another major cause of concern for users is the vulnerability of this information being accessed from individuals who would wish to cause harm to the user. With the continually increase in data theft and phone hacking, criminals or stalkers could gain access to this sensitive marketing data and hone in on a victim's future location. Amazon will have to invest in highly sophisticated encrypting software to protect the integrity of the information and calm user's concerns.

European Union moves closer to a unitary patent system

December 5, 2011,

european-union.jpgCalifornia - Members of the European Parliament (EMPs) are in the process of negotiating an agreement to establish a unified patent system where a single patent could be filed in the European Union (EU) for participating nations. On December 5, 2011, the EMPs' Legal Affairs Committee approved a mandate to set up negotiations on creating a unitary patent system, a standardized language scheme, and a unified patent court. If an agreement can be finalized, then the measure must next be approved by the European Parliament, as well as 25 out of the 27 European member nations for it to go into effect (Italy and Spain have formally objected to the unified patent system measure and have opted out from being bound). If approved, the new patent system is expected to go into effect by 2014.

It is widely anticipated that a unified patent system would make the EU patent process more financially competitive with its counterparts in the United States and Japan. If established, it is expected that a unified patent system would cut costs for filing a patent in the EU by 80% and avoid the legal difficulties of obtaining and defending a patent in various nations with differing national patent laws and court systems. It has been estimated that the average cost of obtaining a European-wide patent under the current system is about $42,000 while the average cost for the same patent in the US is estimated at $10,000.

Currently, to obtain patent protection in the EU, an applicant must file a patent application in each individual country in which they seek protection and obtain a translation of the application into each country's native language, increasing the costs of the patent application. EMPs have put forth a proposal where an applicant could initially file an application in any official language recognized in the EU. However, once the patent is granted, it will only be published ineither English, French or German and then, only translated into the remaining two languages that it was not initially published in. For example, a patent application filed in Greece in the Greek language, if granted, could initially be published in English, and then only available in German and French translations.

Establishing a unified patent court poses more difficulties for negotiators in resolving how the court will be financed, what language the court would operate in, and the operable statute of limitations for patent holders to bring matters before such unified patent court or in an EU member national court. Along these lines, the Polish presidency of the Council of Ministers stated "In order to ensure legal certainty for patent holders and third parties, in particular alleged infringers and the workability of the system creating the European patent with unitary effect, the establishment of a unified patent litigation system is essential. It is therefore necessary that the ratification of the draft agreement takes place and Court becomes fully operational as soon as possible."