No Patent Infringement in Apple’s GPS Apps

On Wednesday, September 20, 2016, the Patent Trial and Appeals Board ruled on a challenge of patent claims. 3 preeminent giants in the tech world, Apple, Google, and Samsung, each were successful against their individual defenses of a claim against them made by American Navigation Systems Inc(ANS).1 The debate was regarding ANS’s U.S. Patent numbered 5,902,347,(also known as the “347 patent”) which was published on May 11, 1999. In the patent abstract, it describes “ a hand-held navigation, mapping and positioning device containing among other features a GPS receiver, a topical map, and a user interface”.2

Since the tech bubble, and the prevalence of smart phones have increased exponentially, so has the competition.3 The phones are often reviewed based on their utility and available features. One of the most notable features is the ability to locate ones self and find directions to a nearby location. This technology has tremendously affected how people have gone about daily travel and exploration. The implementation of the Google maps on these smart phones are what gives companies the reliable service which consumers are demanding.

In its complaint filed on May 12, 2014 against Apple, ANS alleges Apple infringed upon its patent in its use of Google Maps and its own Apple Maps app, which were accessible through their smartphones, tablets, and other handheld electronics.4 It alleges that due to these two features Apple experienced success in sales during its numerous releases dating back to the initial iPhone in 2007. ANS argues that the GPS technology used on the Google Maps and Apple Maps is substantially similar to its 347 patent and is a patent infringement.5 The PTAB ultimately ruled in favor of Apple due in part to the relative publicity of the GPS features that ANS claimed, even when their patent was granted. The board was persuaded by Apple’s defense stating that previously patented concept is one in which was published in 1992 and renders the 347 Patent “obvious.6

The issue with the date of the patent application is not the only problem that ANS faced. It is also the manner of which the patent is described. The purpose of patent law is to protect an idea, which is rightfully the owners, but it is not a means to cast a proverbial wall upon others from implementing anything within the confines of a wide net. A patent application must be specific and contain a written description of the invention, and of the manner and process of making and using it, in such full, clear, concise, and exact terms as to enable any person skilled in the art to which it pertains. Since ANS failed to meet this standard therefore its patent claim was ultimately declared invalid.

  1. Kevin Penton, Apple, Google, Samsung Get Mapping Patent Win At PTAB, Law360, New York, (September 21, 2016, 4:36 PM EDT), https://www.law360.com/technology/articles/842760/apple-google-samsung-get-mapping-patent-win-at-ptab.
  2. USPTO Patent Full-Text and Image Database, United States Patent, Backman, et al., 5,902,347 (May 11, 1999) http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph
  3. Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech (DECEMBER 27, 2013), http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/mobile-technology-fact-sheet/
  4. American Navigation Systems brought suit against Samsung in a similarly identical action for the use of Google Maps on its mobile devices. See American Navigation Systems, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., No. 3:14-cv-05298 at Compl. (N.D. Cal. filed May 12, 2014).
  5. See American Navigation Systems, Inc. v. Apple, Inc., No. 3:14-cv-05297 at Compl. (N.D. Cal .filed May 12, 2014.).
  6. Kevin Penton, Apple, Google, Samsung Get Mapping Patent Win At PTAB, Law360, New York, (September 21, 2016, 4:36 PM EDT), https://www.law360.com/technology/articles/842760/apple-google-samsung-get-mapping-patent-win-at-ptab.

Author: William Darling

William Darling is extremely excited to be an associate editor of the 2016/2017 Rutgers Computer and Technology Law Journal. He is from Somerville, New Jersey and graduated in 2015 from Seton Hall University with a degree in Business Administration. He interned during the summer of 2016 with the City of Elizabeth in their Law Department. His legal interests include Real Estate Law as well as Securities Regulation. He enjoys both watching and playing sports in his free time.