Claims for Refreshing Phone Display Found Patent Eligible
By James Korenchan --
Earlier this month, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that claims related to refreshing a phone's display are patent eligible under 35 U.S.C. § 101. In response to an infringement suit brought by Local Intelligence, LLC, Defendants HTC America, Inc. and HTC Corporation (collectively, "HTC") challenged the eligibility of the asserted patents in their motion to discuss. The motion was denied, with the Court relying almost entirely on the recent Federal Circuit decision in Core Wireless Licensing S.A.R.L. v. LG Electronics, Inc. (Fed. Cir. 2018).
The patents at issue in this case, U.S. Patent Nos. 8,903,067 (the '067 patent), 9,219,982 (the '982 patent), and 9,084,084 (the '084 patent), are in the same family and are related to "automatically refreshing a display screen of a telephone." The specification, shared by each patent, states that users typically have to navigate through many different menus to access the numerous services that their phones provide, such as voice messaging, weather and traffic, transferring funds, and ordering merchandise. Acknowledging that users often access certain services at the same times or locations on a repeating basis (or use some services more than others), the patents purport to improve the display of services by utilizing these types of user behavior. In particular, the invention involves storing mappings between specific locations or times and certain "functions" that correspond to particular services. For instance, the function of "home" could represent the location of the user's home and could be mapped to whichever services the user typically accesses at home. Given these mappings, the invention automatically determines the current time or location and then refreshes the display with whichever services are mapped to the current time or location.
Both parties agreed that the asserted patents contained minimal differences in their claims, and thus the Court analyzed the asserted claims collectively, using claim 1 of the '067 patent as a representative claim:
1. A telephone having a display panel; a datastore including at least one function, wherein the at least one function comprises information relating to a current location of a telephone and at least one other condition associated with a user of the telephone, wherein the at least one function is associated with at least one communication service; circuitry operable to connect the telephone to a location server to obtain a current location of the telephone; and a function selector programmable to refresh a screen on the display panel of the telephone to include at least one communication service associated with the function, based at least in part on a current location of the telephone.
In its motion to dismiss, HTC argued that the asserted claims are directed to no more than providing communication information based on user location and other information and are thus comparable to the abstract claims in Intellectual Ventures I LLC v. Capital One Fin. Corp. (Fed. Cir. 2017), which involved tailoring web-based content based on a viewer's location and address. HTC also argued that "tailoring information is a fundamental process that precedes the computer era, and the claims are not sufficiently specific to recite a specific solution."
Local Intelligence responded by arguing that the claims are instead directed to "specific systems and methods that use a location server associated with a system such as a WiFi network (and not a positioning system like GPS) to obtain a phone's current location, and a phone's 'datastore' or memory (as opposed to a carrier's records), in order to provide and refresh location - relevant communication services on a phone's display as the phone's current location changes." Thus, Local Intelligence contended that the claims provide a specific solution to problems that arise when "using location-based technology in conjunction with displaying particular communication services on a phone."
But the Court was not quite satisfied with either party's interpretation. Finding HTC's interpretation too broad and Local Intelligence's interpretation too narrow, the Court instead concluded that the claims were directed to refreshing location-relevant communication services on a phone's display by obtaining a current location from a location server, selecting communication services using logic in a database, and refreshing the display.
Given this, the Court turned to step one of the Alice framework and confidently declared that the Federal Circuit's Core Wireless decision is controlling. In particular, the Court stressed the similarities between the asserted claims and those in Core Wireless, stating that "Both relate to the computer technology of user interfaces. . . . Both purport to solve the same problem within the realm of user interfaces: limited display space on electronic devices with small screens. . . . And both claim a specific manner of solving this problem." The Court continued, stating that both the asserted claims and those in Core Wireless recite specific manners of limiting information that is displayed. The Court then reached its conclusion:
As such, the claims at issue do more than simply state a result (i.e., display communication services according to current location); they also recite the way in which it is accomplished (i.e., using location retrieved from the location server and functions stored in the datastore). Accordingly, because the specific improvement to the technology of user interfaces claimed in Core Wireless was not an abstract idea, the Court must conclude that the similarly specific improvement to user interfaces claimed here is also not an abstract idea.
Before wrapping up its analysis, the Court specifically addressed some of HTC's contrary arguments. First, the Court dismissed HTC's argument that the asserted patents did not identify a particular technological problem to solve. (However, though the Court believed the patents aimed to solve the same limited display space problem as in Core Wireless, they made sure to note that "not every purported technological improvement is patent eligible.") Next, the Court dismissed HTC's argument that the asserted claims were not as specific as those in Core Wireless, particularly emphasizing the "functions," "datastore," and "location server" claim limitations:
The claims in Core Wireless and the claims at issue here accomplish specificity in different ways, but they both do so to substantially the same degree. In Core Wireless, the claims at issue recited specific graphical characteristics of the improved user interface (e.g., an "application summary window" which must be "reached directly" from the main menu, which contains "data" which is "selectable to launch the respective application"). . . . Here, the claims at issue recite specific implementation characteristics as to how the information to be displayed is limited for the small screen (e.g., using a "location server" to supply the current location and using "functions" stored in a "datastore" to determine which communication services should be selected). . . . As such, the claims of the Asserted Patents recite the solution with a similar level of specificity to the Core Wireless claims and cannot be distinguished on this basis.
Finding the claims to be non-abstract, the Court proceeded no further.
Local Intelligence, LLC v. HTC America, Inc. (N.D. Cal. 2018)
Order Denying Motion to Dismiss by District Judge Edward J. Davila