Court Redaction Error Shows Apple Licensed Scroll Patent to Nokia

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A redaction error in court documents released on Monday revealed that Apple licensed its ‘381 scrolling patent to both Nokia and IBM. The licensing deal could make it harder for the company to collect an injunction against Samsung’s Android devices, even if they are found to infringe on the patent.

Most of Apple’s and Samsung’s legal filings and briefings have been filed under seal, but Judge Lucy Koh has released some of those documents with small and large passages redacted. What happened over the weekend is that a PDF of a document was released that contained a major flaw: Though the document appears redacted, viewers could copy and paste the contents of the file into a text editor and see all of the redacted material…

Redacted!

Artist’s Rendering of Redaction Error
(Click the image for more information)

…which is what both The Verge and Reuters did. Both organizations got a copy of the document before it was corrected and were able to read the whole kit and caboodle.

Key among the state secrets intellectual property revealed is the nugget that Apple licensed the ‘381 patent to Nokia and IBM. This is somewhat of a surprise in that Apple claimed a recent cross-licensing deal between itself and Nokia retained the “the majority of the innovation that makes the iPhone unique.”

Even more surprising was the revelation that Apple had offered Samsung licensing terms on the patent as recently as November 2010, five months before it filed its suit against Samsung. There was no indication of why those licensing negotiations were terminated, who terminated them, or the terms Apple was seeking.

The ‘381 patent covers Apple’s method of allowing a list or other screen to scroll off the edge of a touch-interface device and then snap back into place once the user releases his or her finger. Apple has long held that this is one of the crown jewels of its iOS patents that make iOS what it is, but a licensing deal with Nokia and IBM effectively tells the courts that Apple is willing to play ball and allow others to pay for the right to use the concept.

Samsung’s Android devices use that same method for scrolling, but Android itself doesn’t. Google used a different method to indicate the end of a screen with the stock version of Android—a bar flashes at the end of the screen when you reach it—in part because of the strength of Apple’s ‘381 patent.

Samsung and HTC decided to modify Android on their devices to forego Google’s default end-of-the-scroll method and use something Apple has claimed violates ‘381. Apple then brought complaints against both firms to the U.S. International Trade Commission, as well as this civil lawsuit in the U.S.

Last Friday, Judge Koh declined Apple’s request for a preliminary injunction against Samsung based on design patents Apple has claimed Samsung infringes upon, and the redaction error occurred on documents released in that case.

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3 Comments

Lee Dronick

Steve must have been too sick to keep his eyes on this.

Dean Lewis

Not sure why Apple licensing the tech to two companies would mean other companies could copy or use it without paying up? Even if Apple did offer Samsung the license, and then withdrew it for whatever reason, Samsung wouldn’t have the right to do anything with the IP, right?

Dave Hamilton

Nice alternate image here, Bryan. wink Everyone else: click on the “redacted” image to have a look.

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