September 26, 2023

by Dennis Crouch

The Federal Circuit not too long ago vacated and remanded a pair of Patent Trial and Attraction Board (PTAB) choices that had upheld patent claims owned by Corephotonics. Apple Inc. v. Corephotonics, Ltd., No. 2022-1350 (Fed. Cir. Sept. 11, 2023). The appellate courtroom held the PTAB erroneously construed a disputed declare time period by failing to understand the importance of “a” versus “the” within the claims. It additionally discovered the PTAB violated the Administrative Process Act (APA) by resting its obviousness dedication on arguments and proof not squarely raised by the events.

The Dispute Over Twin-Lens “Portrait Mode”

The patent at challenge, U.S. Patent No. 10,225,479 (‘479 patent), pertains to utilizing dual-aperture digicam programs in smartphones to create aesthetically pleasing “portrait photographs.” Particularly, the patent discloses combining pictures from a wide-angle “Huge” lens and a telephoto “Tele” lens to supply a fused picture displaying a pointy topic in entrance of a blurred background.  Portrait mode is extremely common on Apple and Android telephones and so the business is raring to invalidate the patent held by Tel Aviv primarily based Corephotonics.

Apple filed two petitions for inter partes assessment (IPR) difficult claims of the ‘479 patent as apparent primarily based totally on a previous artwork reference generally known as Parulski, which discloses a dual-lens digital digicam however doesn’t specify how picture fusion happens.  U.S. Patent No. 7,859,588.

Declare Development – The Significance of “A” vs. “The”

Within the first continuing (IPR2020-00905), the events disputed the right building of the declare time period “fused picture with a perspective (POV) of the Huge digicam.” Apple argued this time period required sustaining both the Huge picture’s perspective or place perspective within the fused picture, whereas Corephotonics contended it mandated each Huge perspective and place. Patentees usually argue for slim constructions throughout IPR proceedings with a view to keep away from the prior artwork. Right here, the patentee’s slim building gained the day and the PTAB discovered Apple failed to point out the claims had been apparent below this narrower building.

Inspecting declare building de novo, the Federal Circuit concluded that the PTAB had erroneously construed the time period too narrowly primarily based upon use of the indefinite article “a POV” in addition to intrinsic proof from the patent specification.

The courtroom first regarded on the declare language in context, noting the claims recite “a perspective” relatively than “the perspective” of the Huge digicam, suggesting the fused picture want solely preserve one kind of Huge perspective. Whereas the specification discloses that “perspective” contains each perspective and place, the claims’ use of “a” relatively than “the” was essential:

An inexpensive studying of [the specification] is that Huge perspective and Huge place are two various kinds of Huge perspective. The declare time period requires solely that the fused picture preserve ‘a perspective of the Huge digicam,’ i.e., solely one of many disclosed sorts of Huge perspective.

Slip Op.  The courtroom additionally defined that limiting the claims to require each Huge perspective and place would improperly exclude disclosed embodiments the place the fused picture has a “combined” perspective, like Huge perspective however Tele place.

Taken collectively and in context, nonetheless, the intrinsic proof helps that the declare time period requiring a fused picture sustaining ‘a perspective of the Huge digicam’ requires solely that the fused picture preserve Huge perspective perspective or Huge place perspective, however doesn’t require each.

With this broader building, the Federal Circuit vacated the PTAB’s first choice and remanded for additional evaluation of whether or not the prior artwork disclosed the disputed limitation below the clarified commonplace.

Whereas the Federal Circuit advised the patentee may have outlined “perspective” to require each perspective and place by utilizing “the” within the claims, this may increasingly have been improper as a result of lack of antecedent foundation. Usually, a brand new limitation must be launched utilizing an indefinite article like “a” relatively than a particular article like “the.” The existence of this rule of patent declare drafting raises the query of how a lot interpretive weight must be given to a patentee appropriately following the rule. Right here, using “a perspective” within the claims adhered to the widespread rule of utilizing “a” to introduce a brand new limitation. The Federal Circuit relied closely on this selection of article in reaching its broader building. However as a result of patentees are anticipated to comply with this drafting rule, it’s debatable whether or not such weight must be positioned on the patentee’s choice to make use of “a” in accordance with commonplace apply relatively than “the.” This highlights some stress between declare drafting finest practices and reliance on delicate variations in declare language throughout declare building.  After all, the patentee may have merely drafted claims that clearly acknowledged the construction being claimed.  Right here, the Board famous that the disclosure was “not a mannequin of readability,” one thing that ought to weigh in opposition to the patentee.

Sua Sponte Findings With out Satisfactory Rationalization or Alternative to Reply

Within the second continuing (IPR2020-00906), Apple asserted particular claims reciting detailed digicam parameters can be apparent primarily based on combining Parulski with the Ogata reference. U.S. Patent No. 5,546,236. However the PTAB rested its dedication that Apple had not confirmed obviousness virtually completely on typographical errors within the declaration of Apple’s skilled, Dr. Sasián, which had been barely talked about by the events.

Apple appealed each PTAB choices to the Federal Circuit.

The appellate panel held that resting a dedication of nonobviousness totally on typographical errors in Apple’s skilled declaration, with out prior discover to the events, violated the APA. The courtroom defined that whereas the PTAB can reject unreliable skilled testimony, it should present a reasoned clarification supported by proof and base its choice on points the events had discover and probability to handle. These components weren’t current right here:

Corephotonics didn’t depend on [the expert’s] error in any of its arguments on the deserves. And it didn’t contend that this error demonstrated that there would have been no cheap expectation of success or that it alone was a enough foundation to search out all of Dr. Sasián’s evaluation unreliable.

Slip Op. Additional, whereas the PTAB recognized further errors, these inconsistencies had been by no means raised by the events and appeared to lack evidentiary help.  The PTAB’s “explanations should be supported by substantial proof, and its choices should be reached solely after the events have been offered truthful discover and a chance to be heard.”  As a result of the PTAB centered on peripheral points not squarely introduced by the events, it did not resolve the core obviousness disputes truly raised.

On remand, the PTAB can have the prospect to attempt once more — and, extra notably, Apple will get one other chew on the Corephotonics patent.