SAN JOSE, Calif. – As foreman of the jury that awarded Apple just over $1 billion in its patent infringement suit against Samsung, Velvin R. Hogan returned time and again to his experience as an electrical engineer. Now at the center of a media blitz, Hogan, who holds two of his own patents, talked at length about the case he calls the highlight of his career, one idea sometimes flowing into the next.
The jury “got hung up the first day” debating the validity of one of Apple’s patents, “so I said let’s leave it for tonight,” he said Monday (Aug. 27) in an interview with EE Times.
In days of testimony, lawyers for both sides presented world-class experts who showed multiple pieces of what they claimed were prior art invalidating each other’s patents. “When I got home I was watching a movie on TV, but not really watching it because my mind was going 90 miles an hour thinking about this patent, claim by claim,” he recalled.
“My light bulb moment came that Wednesday night when I asked myself if I could defend [the Apple ‘381 software patent], and I realized I could, so in the morning I explained this to my fellow jurors,” the 67-year-old Hogan said.
After that, the group fairly quickly found all the Apple and Samsung patents in the case were valid. As instructed the jury then considered Samsung devices one by one, deciding that most of them willfully infringed Apple’s patents and trade dress, or look and feel, levying $1.05 billion in damages on Samsung.
Hogan’s “light-bulb moment” was a flashback to his experience defending his patent on an alternative to the MPEG 4 Part 10 video codec.
The patent “took seven years to be granted—the last three-and-a-half years debating with the patent examiner my claims, and ultimately I won. I learned in that exercise what’s needed to defend a patent against prior art,” he said.
Hogan spent much of his 40+ year career building test equipment and servo components for the emerging hard disk drive industry. He refused to join Samsung’s lawyers and some observers who scoffed at Apple’s claims on the industrial design of iPhones and the look and feel of their user interfaces.
“If you accept the premise of intellectual property--regardless of what it is—it needs to be protected,” he said.
“I confess a few years ago when Congress let the patent office authorize trade dress and design patents I was quite frankly not sure it was the right thing to do, but after being in this trial my position changed--IP needs to be protected if it is legitimate,” he said.
I think things need to be put in proper perspective. In hindsight -everything- is obvious.
Let's go back to the time before the iPhone:
The most popular business phone, by far, was the Blackberry. Why? Because it made email easy. Easy compared to what? To every other phone on the market. On these other phones it was so difficult, often involving scrolling through windows using cursor buttons, that most people didn't bother.
Using the internet on Blackberries and other 'smart' phones was also easier than it had been in the past, but couldn't have been so great, because these phones were not having much impact on the Internet backbone.
Then the iPhone came out.
[cue dramatic music]
I didn't happen to notice what was written on the impact on AT&T's networks in the US, but I read a few articles about what happened when the iPhone was introduced in England. The network operators were completely unprepared for the onslaught of data on their networks.
Clearly, the iPhone was a completely different beast than -any- other phone on their networks and they had to completely rebuild parts of it just to handle -this- phone.
What was different? Using the Internet was ridiculously easy, compared to other phones where it was so ridiculously hard that most people didn't even bother.
A lot of it was the easy touch interface, including the 'pinch to zoom' and other multitouch features (as I mentioned above, invented by a company that Apple bought long before Jeff Han did his TED talk).
You can make any argument about the phones you want, but the proof is in the data going across the network. The iPhone was groundbreaking.
Many of the comments here seem to revolve around the issue that the jury foreman brought his own expertise to bear in rendering a verdict, and whether that constitutes a basis for an appeal.
In all trials, the case is supposed to be decided based on the evidence presented in the courtroom. For instance, say a trial's outcome relies on the color of the sky. If an expert witness for one side states that, in his expert opinion, the sky is red, and that sworn testimony is not refuted by another expert witness from the opposing side, then the jury cannot use their innate knowledge of the color of the sky to render a verdict.
After barely scraping by for several years, I finally have a patent pending (utility). I chose to patent because I'm a good engineer, yet my competitors are very good at manufacturing; they would have eventually got ahold of one of my cool products and saturated the market with a knock-off long before I could get it scaled up in production. The lifecycle for my product is typically 10 years, and I'll need at least that long to pay off debts and recoup the opportunity costs of doing a moon-shot for years at my kitchen table, with no day job. Without a temporary monopoly of a patent, there is no incentive to put in the work. As to those who are calling to reform the patent system, the largest reform in 80 years begins September 2012, the America Invents Act. We change to a first-to-file system in March 2013. While there is a new review process to challenge patents more easily, and the USPTO remains fully funded by assignee fees, the consensus is that big companies and universities will file many pore patents and the small inventor will be swamped by prior art and often beaten in the race to file.
First of all I agree all IP needs to be protected.
There are good patents and bad patents. The quality of patents is determined by how they are written and how the claims are structures.
- BIG money buys better lawyers
In patent litigation cases such as this, the team of lawyers also drives how well you can fight it. The jury in the US and down the street from Apple will almost certainly root for Apple (why ?, because apple is a brand that has been built well). Apple is good at refining and bringing to markets things that have previously existed. They are an excellent industrial design house... technology after the 90s they have not done anything earth shattering.
Plus, Samsung made strategic mistakes... big companies put patents in re-exam and then endlessly stay the case while the patent is being re-examined. It is called interference where you can put together prior art (valid or invalid) to tie up question the viability of the patent.
Round 1 to Apple.
Design patents can be used to protect items that are clearly differentiated from anything else (an obvious statement if there ever was one), but when the differences get subtle, I can see them getting really messy. I certainly don't have access to the evidence given in the trial, but I don't think it would be terribly difficult to make the case that every phone, tablet, laptop and desktop are essentially copies of each other that would infringe all over the place.
Conversely, I don't think it would be terribly difficult to make the case that all of these devices are different enough from each other as to not infringe.
I bet that if you picked ten different juries, you'd get ten radically different answers.
Actually, Jeff Han is not the father of these multitouch devices. There was a company, Fingerworks, that did a lot of this multitouch work and patented it and even came out with some products well before Jeff Han's work.
Guess what? Apple bought the company in 2005.
On the other hand, there were people working on multitouch even before Fingerworks. I don't know if they patented it or not.
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.