March 14, 2014, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – A recent patent filed by Samsung looks to get around Apple’s patented pinch-to-zoom technology, which has been a source of major contention between the two tech powerhouses for years.  The issue goes back to before Apple was famously awarded $1 billion in patent infringement damages in 2012.  Though that award was eventually reduced to hundreds of millions, one of the major hot buttons in the litigation surrounded the pinch-to-zoom technology.  The presiding judge found that Samsung had infringed Apple’s pinch-to-zoom patent, dubbed the ‘ 915 patent, in over 20 of its devices.

After years of back and forth and later accusations by Samsung that the ’915 patent was invalid and that there had thus been no infringement in the first place, the Korean-based Apple rival seems to have finally come up with a viable alternative to the pinch-to-zoom technology.   The new function would be compatible on all Samsung touch screen devices and would work with a stylus or human finger.  According to the patent, which was published last week, users would touch a finger to the device and move it in a small circular clockwise motion to zoom on an object.  Conversely to zoom out, they would perform the same operation, but in a counter-clockwise direction.

This technology differentiates from Apple’s foundation pinch-to-zoom technology, whereby users perform a pinching motion to zoom in and spread their fingers from close to further apart to zoom out.  Since this has become the standard gesture for zooming on mobile devices, partially due to several Samsung devices which employ the same technology (and were the subject of the landmark patent infringement loss suffered by Samsung), it is unclear how users will react.

Since the huge judgment was handed down in 2012, Samsung has been working feverishly to come up with something that effectively competes with Apple’s function while still remaining  different enough so as not to infringe.   For now, however, at least some are not impressed with Samsung’s pinch-to-zoom alternative, pointing out that it seems more like a gesture one would make to rotate an object rather than to zoom in or out on it.

January 30, 2014, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – A recently filed patent provides a snapshot of what might be on the horizon for Apple’s next generation of devices.  The new technology, which is referenced in a patent that was granted last week, surrounds the sensors features in the touch pads of Apple products.  The patent is exciting news for the multitude of Apple fans eagerly awaiting the next line of MacBook devices, which have been the subject of less patent filings when compared to Apple’s other devices like the iPad and iPhone.

The patent, entitled, “Touch pad with force sensors and actuator feedback,” was filed by the Cupertino-based company by a team of eight inventors.  The filing details new plans for a track pad with an added actuator feature, which users touch to activate “force sensors.”  This differs from the current track pad included in MacBook devices, which are known as “all-in-one” designs, that are essentially one large button.

The all-in-one design that Apple has used in its laptop devices for years have been the subject of complaints, the biggest being the amount of pressure needed to click and activate the inner switch.  This problem is even more pronounced when users try to click the track pad close to the edge, where the hinges lie underneath.  While the simple appearance of the all-in-one design has added to Apple’s theme of compact sleekness, it seems that the company is finally looking to heed user complaints and make some changes its touchpad.

Specifically, the technology outlined in the new patent looks to alleviate the track pad pressure problem by implementing four sensors, rather than one, which will be situated under the four corners of the pad.  Offering an even bigger change, the new sensors will be updated “force sensors” that do not even have to move to be activated, but can respond to the vibration of human touch. Thus, with the new track pad, users might not have to press a button of any sort, but can simply tap the surface to click.   After detailing this new possible “button less” track pad technology, the patent goes on to describe how the new computers will have customizable settings so that users can select their desired level of touch sensitivity.  After all, the concept of not pushing down to click may take some getting used to for many of us.

December 18, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – Nestle has come under fire for its recent patent application seeking protection over an extraction of the fennel flower seed, which comes from a plant that has been used by humans since as early as the 10th century.   At the forefront of the groups that are criticizing the Swiss-based food leader is Sum of Us, an organization that identifies itself as ”fighting for people over profits.”   The group claims that Nestle is attempting to profit from the fennel flower itself, which has been used as a homeopathic remedy for thousands of years.

The patent filing has angered several groups including Sum of Us, which contends that Nestle fabricated the idea that it “discovered” that Nigella sativa, the binomial name for fennel flower, could be used to alleviate food allergies, when it has been used for this purpose for hundreds of years.   Sum of Us claims that ““Instead of creating an artificial substitute, or fighting to make sure the remedy was widely available, Nestlé is attempting to create a Nigella sativa monopoly and gain the ability to sue anyone using it without Nestlé’s permission.”

In response, Nestle claims on its website that it is not attempting to patent the fennel flower itself.  Instead, it claims that its “patent application relates only to the specific way that thymoquinone – a compound that can be extracted from the seed of the fennel flower – interacts with opioid receptors in the body and helps to reduce allergic reactions to food.” Nestle goes on to respond to the controversy by stating that, “The fennel flower …  is a natural species, and nobody could, or should, benefit from ownership over it” and that, “we fully support the principle of fair access and benefit-sharing when it comes to the raw materials we use.”

The patent squabble has stirred up debate over the patentability of natural elements in general, a topic that has been generating more and more talk as of late.   Last year, in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics , the United States Supreme Court ruled that human DNA could not be patented in its innate form because it is a “product of nature.”  However, that court limited its ruling by pointing out that synthetic or human made DNA could be patented.  Since then, the global discussion about the line between nature and science has intensified and situations like it are continuing to lead to questions about the role of intellectual property protection.

November 15, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – In a recently filed patent, Apple Inc. set out its plans to make Siri more realistic by adding a crowd sourcing feature.   The recently filed patent sounds similar to the already existing search engine, ChaCha, which allows users to search for answers provided by real life people.   The technology is being thought of by many as Apple’s attempt to fix the most cited complaint about Siri in that she often fails to provide answers to real life everyday questions, beyond purely factual information contained in search results.

The patent, which was filed in March, is titled, “Crowd Sourcing Information to Fulfill User Requests” and describes technology that would provide Siri with a sort of back up database of information.  Currently, Siri is able to pull knowledge from several sources such as Wikipedia and Google.  However, according the 24 claims laid out in the recent patent, with the new crowd sourcing implementation, if Siri was asked a questions she could not answer using the current sources, the digital assistant could then tap into the backup catalog of more “real-life” questions and answers.

Since its inception in 2011, Siri has been a topic of conversation for users asking funny questions to see what kinds of answers she will provide.  From a practical perspective, however, Siri has some shortcomings.  While Siri can easily provide factual information such as the projected spread of the upcoming football game or whether there is rain in the forecast, she often falls short when asked more nuanced questions.  Crowd sourced search engine ChaCha has made these types of questions its forte.   It can produce quick answers to questions like, “How many movies is the Statue of Liberty in?”,a  query that would likely get an “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite get that” response from Siri.

The similarities between the new Apple patent and Chacha have left some wondering how novel this newly patented technology really is.  For the time being, however, ChaCha does not seem worried about the potential threat, as its CEO Scott James was recently quoted as saying that he finds Siri to be “at the bottom of the list” of digital assistant technology.   Whether his opinion changes  if and when the new crowd sourcing Siri technology is released to Apple’s over 250 million iPhone users remains to be seen.

October 15, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – Nestle has encountered a huge setback as the European Patent Office (EPO) this week threw out a patent that has to do with its popular Nespresso single serve coffee system.   The regulatory body, which covers 28 European countries, did not set forth its exact reasons for invalidating the patent, but noted that such an explanation will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.   This blow comes at a crucial time for Nestle as it has been publicly attempting to stop several rivals, such as Ethical Coffee Company SA and Mondelez International Inc., from producing coffee pods that fit in the Nespresso machines.

The now thrown out patent was originally granted by the EPO in 2010 and covered the way the pods fit into and are ejected from the device.   With its patent protection now eliminated, Nestle is in a weakened position to prevent others from making compatible pods.  In April of this year, a London Judge ruled that Nespresso customers have a right to purchase coffee pods from any maker they choose and that Nestle could not prevent this.  Just a few months before that ruling, courts in Germany and Switzerland refused to ban the unlicensed sale of coffee pods that fit into Nespresso machines.   Notably, the Nespresso brand coffee pods are the only ones authorized by Nespresso and cost about three times the price of the rival brands.

With so many recent impediments, Nestle executives are predictably upset.   In a recent statement, a spokesperson responded to the patent revocation stating, “We believe that the decision fails to recognize the unique innovations inherent in the design of the Nespresso system.”  The statement went on to say that the invalidation was unlikely to significantly impact Nespresso sales.   This comes as welcome news for investors of the brand, which makes up about 4% of Nestle’s total $100 billion in annual sales.

Despite Nestle’s predictions of how much the recent drawbacks will or will not affect Nespresso, several outside sources have identified a negative effect already taking place.  One estimate proffered by Bank Vontobel said that Nespresso sales growth momentum has decelerated to 16% in 2012, down from 28% three years prior.

October 1, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – A newly filed patent application by Tesla Motors reveals the company’s interest in finally finding a solution to one of the electric car’s biggest problems: how to keep cars going on long trips in between charging stations.   The  California-based company that produces only electric vehicles submitted a patent application for an innovative metal-air battery that would kick in once its normal lithium-ion battery runs out.  This technology would make it so that Tesla owners would have the option to switch to this secondary battery when running low on a charge, allowing it to continue for up to another 400 miles.

Tesla’s approach differs in comparison to other electric car manufacturers, such as Chevrolet with its Volt, which includes a four-cylinder engine that can generate backup energy for a range of 300-400 miles.  Compared to cars like the Volt, some kind of reliable secondary power source is essential for Tesla because unlike hybrid owning counterparts, Tesla owners can’t opt to stop off and fill up at a gas station.

The new patent is described by Tesla as “Electric Vehicle Extended Range Hybrid Battery Pack System” and spells out how the invention “provides a power source comprised of a first battery pack (e.g., a non-metal-air battery pack) and a second battery pack (e.g., a metal-air battery pack), wherein the second battery pack is only used as required by the state-of-charge (SOC) of the first battery pack or as a result of the user selecting an extended range mode of operation.” Thus, with the new technology, the lithium–ion battery already featured in Tesla cars would continue to do the heavy lifting, with the metal air battery serving as a backup.  The metal-air battery is useful for this specific purpose because it uses oxygen as one of its electrodes to generate power.  While the battery easier to charge, these metal-air batteries offer only short term potential as they tend to have a much shorter lifespan than traditional batteries.

Many have noted that by eliminating a conventional cell battery and replacing it with a battery that uses air, Tesla may be the first to successfully tackle the long distance charging problem and might have found a less expensive option that can be accessed by the masses.   Indeed, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long expressed his intention to make Tesla a brand that provides an electric car option for every level of the consumer market.

September 18, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – Apple and Google are back in court, this time to argue over whether a judge should reopen a case over patented technology featured in their smartphones.   The latest in the blow by blow between the two companies happened last week when Motorola Mobility, Inc., a subsidiary of Google, Inc. filed an appeal that an older case be reopened.   The original lawsuit, filed in 2010, quickly snowballed into a tangle with each company claiming that the other had infringed the other’s patents by including certain technology in their respective smartphones.   Notably, Motorola charged that Apple had infringed one of its most basic essential patents that functions to make the phone power on.

Given the complexity of the original back and forth lawsuits, the cases were consolidated only to be thrown out by famed IP expert Judge Richard Posner.   In his dismissal of the cases, Judge Posner found that neither company had presented sufficient evidence to sustain the claims brought forth.   It is in response to this dismissal that Motorola petitioned that the case be reopened.

In last week’s hearing, the Google-owned Android operator argued that the case should be remanded so that it may have the chance to prove that Apple should pay for use of its patented technology.   The three-judge panel who presided over the hearing focused their questions on whether or not the two companies had tried hard enough to work out a deal between themselves outside of court.

The trio of judges expressed concern that one or both of the companies could be classified as an “unwilling licensee,” referring to a party who does not in good faith attempt to pay to license an invention it has infringed upon.  Counsel for Apple argued vigorously on this point, claiming that Apple was far from being an unwilling licensee and that Motorola had unfairly demanded that Apple pay over 12 times what it had asked to license the subject technology in the past.

Aside from the licensing issues, both sides also presented arguments over each other’s expert witnesses.  Ultimately,  Judge Posner denied one of Apple’s proposed experts and two of Motorola’s.   Now that the hearing for remand has taken place, the Federal Circuit appeals court could take up to a year to decide whether or not the lawsuit will be reopened.   If it is, depending on the specifics of the ruling,  the companies will likely be able to pursue their substantive patent infringement arguments in lower court proceedings.

September 10, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – After  years of parents calling for Apple to come up with a kid-friendly user profile for its best selling devices such as the iPad and iPhone, it appears that the tech giant has finally given in.   Obtaining patent protection last week for what it describes as, “Method, apparatus and system for access mode control of a device”, Apple seems to be exploring ways for users to limit device access to kids.

The new technology will allow owners to give different levels of access to different users of their devices.   A simple change of settings will make it so that iPad and iPhone users can, for instance, unlock only parent approved kids apps and games.  It is thought that this new addition will finally equip parents with a way to set up user profiles, those for themselves and those for their kids, who often share the same devices.

Beyond the locking and restriction of access to certain device functions, the new patent also allows for voice, keyboard, and stylus commands to control various functions.   This means that kids who cannot spell or read might be able to say a simple word command to access the iPad or iPhone profile that their parents have set up for them.

The possibilities for the new invention are already swirling, with commentators noting that this could pave the way for widespread iPad use in schools.   With the teacher in charge of the settings, the teacher could theoretically block access to non-school related apps and only allow students to work on apps that are for school.  Parents could also have more control over what types of apps their kids access at different times, perhaps allowing educational and learning applications during the week and game apps on the weekend.

Whatever the specific implication of the new addition, one thing is clear – Apple has finally gotten the message that parents want to have more control over what their kids can do on their Apple devices.   Perhaps the recent parental outcry of complaints that Apple received for not requiring a password before making App Store purchases has stirred a response.   In that controversy, parents panned Apple for failing to require a password to be entered before every single purchase, claiming that their kids were racking up their bills buying add-ons and apps available through the App Store.  Now that it seems parents will have a way to restrict this kind of behavior by their kids, Apple might be able to get back in the good graces of techie parents.

August 28, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles – Google, Inc. has granted a glimpse into its plans for advertising in technology with its newly registered patent for a “Gaze Tracking System” on its innovative future product, Google Glass.

The product, Glass, is a set of eyeglasses with a computer embedded into the side arm and a small screen displayed on the glass piece above the right eye.  A beta version of the Google Glass was introduced to developers in February 2013.

Newly minted U.S. Patent number 8,510,166 suggests that Google plans to add cameras facing both inside toward the eyes to track the gaze of the user and outside to reconcile what the user is looking at.

According to the ‘166 patent, Google intends to utilize its new Google Glass invention to track how long users look at particular advertisements.  The method, known as “pay per gaze,” would store data on what people look at and for how long.

Google has discovered the moneymaking potential of this device and plans to track users’ interaction with advertisements.  Google would store this data on a macro level, wiping the information of any personal identifiers, and then charge advertisers based on the amount of time that users spent looking at their particular ad.

The ‘166 patent further describes that Google would analyze the emotional reaction of the user to what is in view.  Google would then report this information to the advertiser, at an extra cost.  This would provide useful information to advertisers on what users respond to and how to develop engaging ads.

“Pay per gaze” could revolutionize the way that advertising operates.  Under this system, advertising both online and in traditional print media would dramatically alter its pay structure.  Instead of paying per billboard or print ad, advertisers would be charged each time a Google Glass user interacted with an advertisement.

This patent does not specifically state that the “pay per gaze” system would apply to the Google Glass.  However, the description of the product that this system would utilize matches that of the Glass.

August 12, 2013, by Mandour & Associates, APC

Los Angeles - A federal circuit court on Tuesday upheld the verdict in a case between two cheese manufacturers over patent infringement of cheese vat technology, deciding in favor of Tetra Pak Cheese and Powder Systems, Inc.

The ruling, made by a three-judge panel in U.S. Circuit Court in the 7th District, ended a three year battle between Cheese Systems, Inc. and Tetra Pak over elements of the design for large, churning vats to make cheese.

The patent at issue, granted to Tetra Pak in 1999, is U.S. Patent Number 5,985,347, titled “Cheese Processing Vat and Method.”  The vat is designed for large-scale cheese manufacturing, with two large, rotating panels inside which mix and slice the cheese.  While the agitator panels of other cheese vats rotate opposite each other, the ‘347 patent claimed the innovation of panels rotating in the same direction, which leads to a more efficient cheese-making process.

Tetra Pak argued that Cheese System’s vat design infringed on the central elements of its ‘347 patent, and demanded that the company stop use of its infringing product.

Cheese Systems originally brought a complaint against Tetra Pak in 2010 in Federal Court in the Western District of Wisconsin, asking for Tetra Pak’s patent to be invalidated.  Wisconsin-based Cheese Systems argued that Tetra Pak’s patent was obvious in light of prior disclosures.

The presiding judge in this case, Barbara R. Crabb, did not accept these arguments and instead found that Cheese Systems had infringed the patent held by Tetra Pak.  Cheese Systems appealed the decision to U.S. Circuit Court, which again ruled against Cheese Systems.

The Appeals Court also granted a permanent injunction for Cheese Systems’ use of its infringing cheese vat along with its decision to uphold the district court’s decision.

Swiss-based Tetra Pak is an international food packing and processing corporation.  Its founder, Ruben Rausing, was the first to develop a sterile packaging process for foods and liquids.  This process is still in use today, as seen in juice boxes and milk cartons.

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