Apple and Google crush map patent in early test of Patent Office’s new appeal system

An appeals board of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office ruled this week that all 27 claims contained in a shell company’s 2003 patent are invalid, dealing what is likely to be a fatal blow to the company’s lawsuit against Apple and Google over map displays in the iPad and iPhone.

In a unanimous ruling, three judges of the Patent Trial and Appeal Board found that the patent claims, which are for a method of displaying street level images next to a map, were obvious or not new. Here is an image of the technology in question:

Map patent

The owner of the patent, a Florida-based patent troll called Jongerius Panoramic Technologies LLC, sued both Apple and Google in 2012, because of the companies’ inclusion of Google Maps’ “Street View” feature in the iPad and iPhone.

In response, the two tech giants — which frequently clash with each other on intellectual property issues — filed a joint petition to invalidate the patent, citing so-called prior art, including journal articles and earlier patents. The Board pointed to images like the one below, from U.S. Patent No. 6,346,938, in its 68-decision to side with [company]Apple[/company] and [company]Google[/company]:

Patent map

For Jongerius Panoramic, which can be called a troll since it doesn’t have a business outside of litigation, the Board’s finding all but dooms its patent lawsuit, which is currently on hold in California federal court. Reached by phone, a lawyer for the shell company declined to comment or say if Jongerius will appeal the decision to a specialized patent appeals court.

The Board’s decision is significant not only because it sees Google and Apple on the same side of a patent issue, but because it shows how a new Patent Office appeals system is working as a new tool to eliminate bad patents.

The system, known as inter partes review, came into effect in 2013 last year as a result of the America Invents Act of 2012. It allows third parties to challenge patents before administrative judges, who have received over a 1000 petitions, but only began issuing decisions in recent months.

While the disgraced former Chief Judge of the patent appeals court bemoaned the new Board last year as a “death squad” for patents, it appears to be fulfilling its function of weeding out patents that the Patent Office should never have granted in the first place. Meanwhile, the Patent Office, which has been blamed for fueling the patent troll problem, is attracting new criticism over a wage fraud epidemic and a culture of slapdash approvals.

Here’s the Patent Trial and Appeal Board ruling, which is a slog, but is a good window into the arcane process by which patents are granted and challenged.

PTAB Streetview Patent

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