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US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit revives Apple's ITC battle with Motorola over multi-touch patents


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It's been well over a year since the ITC ended its initial investigation into Apple's allegations that a spate of Motorola mobile devices infringed its patents on multi-touch display technology. Apple remained undeterred by that ruling and appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Today, Cupertino got what it wanted when the CAFC overturned parts of the ITC's decision, and remanded it back to the ITC for further consideration.

Two patents were addressed by the court, US patents 7,663,607 and 7,812,828 for capacitive multi-touch display technology. The CAFC agreed with the ITC's determination that most of the claims of the '607 patent at issue were anticipated by an earlier patent, and were therefore not valid. However, the ITC invalidated one other main claim in the '607 patent because it was deemed to be obvious in light of other, existing patents, but the court disagreed with the ITC's ruling. Why? The ITC failed to consider evidence that should have factored into the obviousness analysis, so the CAFC sent the case back to the Commission to account for this evidence and render a new ruling.

Additionally, the CAFC found that the ITC misconstrued an important term in the '828 patent in making its final determination, and therefore vacated its decision with respect to that patent. By doing so, the court sent the issue back to the ITC to decide whether or not the accused Motorola devices infringe the '828 patent using the "correct construction" of the term.

What do these rulings mean? Well, aside from re-opening a case that Motorola had undoubtedly hoped would remain closed, it potentially gives Apple back a couple of significant weapons in its IP arsenal. Should the ITC now find in Apple's favor, it would allow the company to ban any infringing Moto products, and breathe new life into the '607 and '828 patents. The number of Moto handsets and tablets potentially affected is unknown, but it's highly likely that, should the patents be found valid by the ITC, we'll see them pop up in other Apple lawsuits. Of course, the ITC could, even with the CAFC's new instructions, uphold its previous decision using new reasoning and render any 'what ifs' moot.

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