US appeals court vacates Apple win in Unwired Planet patent suit

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on Friday handed down an opinion vacating in part a 2015 summary judgment that found Apple not in infringement of certain cellular and voice recognition patents, claims of which originate from a string of "kitchen sink" patent lawsuits leveled by non-practicing entity Unwired Planet.

In its decision, the CAFC vacated and remanded a district court judge's summary judgment in Apple's favor pertaining to three pieces of IP owned by Unwired Planet, sending the case back down for review. A fourth finding of non-infringement was affirmed by the appeals court.

Today's opinion stems from a 2012 Unwired Planet complaint lodged in Nevada. At the time, UP alleged a slew of Apple products were in infringement of ten patents for cellular data transmission, voice recognition systems, device provisioning and other related technologies. Apple's iPhone, iPad, App Store, iTunes, iCloud, iOS and a selection of first-party apps were targeted in the suit.

The case was transferred to California in 2013, where claims were narrowed prior to Apple's push for a summary judgment.

In 2015, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria ruled Apple did not directly infringe on U.S. Patent Nos. 6,532,446 for speech recognition on mobile devices, 6,647,260 for web-based provisioning of mobile devices and 6,317,831 for secure data transmission using a narrowband channel. Judge Chhabria denied a summary judgment of no direct infringement of a fourth claim involving U.S. Patent No. 6,321,092, an invention describing mobile device location techniques, but granted in favor of no induced or contributory infringement.

Unwired Planet, formerly known as Openwave Systems, was founded in 1994 as a provider of mobile internet access technology solutions. The company saw initial success with development of WAP standard products including one of the world's first mobile internet browsers. Citing "infringing competition," UP revenue declined until the firm was forced to sell off its product business in 2012. The company kept its stash of patents to leverage against larger industry players like Apple and RIM under the guise of holdings entity Unwired Planet, Inc. The firm sold its remaining assets to PanOptis in April.

Apple's first brush with UP came in 2011, when the NPE filed a U.S. International Trade Commission complaint over iPhone and iPad internet connectivity. While the case was ultimately abandoned, UP applied the same patents to lawsuits in Delaware and Nevada.

Interestingly, UPIP CEO Boris Teksler served a four-year stint as Apple's patent licensing director. Prior to his departure in 2013, Teksler testified in Apple's high-profile patent lawsuit against Samsung.