Back in March 2011 Ambercite and its partner Griffith Hack published a widely viewed patent landscape report of the smartphone patent wars, including a patent landscape map, part of which is reproduced below.
This report covered a broad range of areas, including a patent analysis on a Motorola (since acquired by Google) patent being asserted against Apple, US6246862 Sensor controlled user interface for portable communication device, invented by Grivas et al ('Grivas') . But at the time, we did not have our AmberScope search engine available for patent searching.
The patent itself concerns a function that should be familiar to many users of touchscreen based smartphones, namely how the touchscreen switches off when the phone is brought close to your body, such as when it is held up to your ear when making a phone call. In this way, body parts such as your ear are prevented from accidently hitting any of the virtual buttons normally found on a touchscreen during a call, and perhaps ending the call. Next time you are using a touchscreen phone to make a call, note how the screen blanks out when brought very close to your head - this is this function in action.
This function is obviously very important for touchscreen phones, and so the patent could have been a key Google patent in the smartphone patent wars.
In its ruling published 22 April 2013, the United States International Trade Commission has found in relation to this dispute that claim 1 of Grivas:
1. A portable communication device comprising:
a processing section to control operation of the portable communication device in response to an input signal;
a user interface comprising a touch sensitive input device coupled to the processing section, the touch sensitive input device actuatable to generate the input signal; and
a sensor coupled to the user interface, the sensor to disable communication of the input signal to the processing section when the portable communication device is positioned in close proximity to a user, thereby, preventing inadvertent actuation of the touch sensitive input device.
was infringed by Apple - but that this claim was obvious in view of Motorola owned US6052464 Telephone set having a microphone for receiving or an earpiece for generating an acoustic signal via a keypad (first inventor Harris, hereafter 'Harris'), both in combination with ordinary general skill and combination with US Patent No. US5894298 Display apparatus to Hoeksma.
In the case of the earpiece 18 being ported through the keypad 20, the controller 88 disables the plurality of key input signals responsive to one of: the ear cup 78 being positioned proximate to the person's ear 84 or the person's head 86 responsive to a signal from the proximity sensor 92,
Which raises the question - if AmberScope was available at the time of the dispute, could it have been used to find the Harris patent?
The answer is yes, via a simple two step process shown below:
1) Enter US6246862 into AmberScope, and use the Next button to systematically review the patents in this network, working from the highest ranked (automatically computed AmberScore) patent to the lowest, reviewing these patents for documents that are particularly relevant to the claimed invention. As we identify relevant patents, we manually assign a relevancy score of 0 (green) to 4 (red) and then explore the neighborhood of these patents.
In 10th highest ranked position, with an AmberScore of 2.5,we find US5729604 Safety switch for communication device filed by Nortel, which discloses in its abstract:
A communication device such as a portable wireless terminal for a telephone system having a proximity sensor to automatically switch the receiving transducer from receiver mode to loudspeaker mode. The proximity sensor is positioned in the handset such that the associated circuitry switches the transducer from loudspeaker mode to receiver mode in response to the handset being brought into proximity with the user's ear.
The relevance to the Grivas patent is quite obvious, although this does not disclose disabling the keypad via the proximity sensor.
2) Since the Nortel patent is clearly relevant, we make this the focus, and again start reviewing its connected patents in order of AmberScore value using the Next button.
And in 10th position we find US6052464, the Harris patent. Which as a matter of interest has the US patent codes 379/433, in contrast to the 455/566 and 455/95 US patent codes for the Grivas patent (and which further confirms the risks of searching patents using patent codes alone).
This is yet another example of how quick and simple seaching patent networks using powerful search engines such as AmberScope can be a very effective means of finding prior art.