Friday (June 1, 2018), on the heels of its “big win” against Samsung ($539 million), the Federal Circuit has revived several patents “relate to modifications to the graphical user interfaces of devices such as computers and mobile phones, modifications that allow the interfaces to be controlled using pre-defined pointer or touch movements instead of mouse clicks.” Zeroclick, LLC, owner of the two patents, sued Apple in 2015 in a case that was reported as one of the most compelling cases against Apple in years. The target of Zeroclick’s lawsuit is Apple’s iOS touchscreen.
The California district (trial) court found the asserted patent claims invalid for indefiniteness, reasoning that the claims recited means-plus-function terms (a certain patent claim style) for which the specifications did not disclose sufficient structure (patent application drafting problems). The Federal Circuit, however, disagreed, vacated the ruling, revived the patents and sent the case back to the district court for the case to continue. Zeroclick is now free to pursue its case against Apple which, if it prevails, could have a large negative impact on Apple it impacts all the iOS touchscreen devices.
In its original complaint, Zeroclick, who purchased the patents from the inventor Dr. Irvine, alleges that Dr. Irvine faxed a letter around 2002 to Apple’s Director of Software Development and explained the novelty and numerous benefits of his “Zeroclick” graphical user interface. This letter predates touchscreen devices, such as iPhones and IPad, introduction to market in 2007. In 2015, after acquiring the patents, Zeroclick sued.
Zeroclick is asking for payment that is no less that a reasonable royalty. One has to wonder what a company that with no discernible business operations (patent troll?) would consider “reasonable”. (Note www.zeroclick.com was registered in 1999 and has a “entertaining” website, it is not known if this website is associated with Zeroclick, LLC).
One very interesting fact is that Apple has a policy that states “Apple and its employees and contractors do not accept, review or consider any unsolicited ideas, works, materials, proposals, suggestions, artwork, content or the like, including for advertising campaigns, promotions, products, services, technologies, product enhancements, processes, marketing strategies, product names, content or creative materials (all of the foregoing “submissions”)”. It goes on to state that “You agree that: (1) your submissions and their contents along with related intellectual property rights will automatically become the property of Apple, without any compensation to you; …” However, Apple has not directly raised its policy in the answer to Zeroclick’s original complaint. This may be that the policy was not in place when Dr. Irvine sent his fax to Apple. This is just one aspect to what will mostly likely be a complicated case.
Nevertheless, having such a “unsolicited idea policy”, and enforcing the policy with proper internal procedures, can prevent you from being in Apple’s situation.