RealTime IT News

PalmOne Graffiti Is No Infringement

Xerox should never have gotten a patent on unistroke symbols, a U.S. Court ruled today.

In a decision rendered late Friday, Judge Michael A. Telesca of the United States District Court for the Western District of New York ruled U.S. Patent No. 5,596,656 invalid, citing prior art that showed Xerox's "unistroke system" was not unique.

At the same time, the judge issued a summary judgment, dismissing Xerox's patent infringement suit against Milpitas, Calif.-based PalmOne. Xerox originally sued 3Com, the corporate parent of Palm. Palm later split into two companies, palmOne, which makes hardware, and PalmSource, which provides software.

Xerox executives were not immediately available for comment.

Xerox's patent, awarded in January 1997, covers a method for the computerized recognition of handwriting that recognizes symbols as unbroken keystrokes: when the stylus lifts from the electronic tablet, a new character is assumed. The claim includes a manual pointer, a sensor mechanism, a display and a character generator.

Xerox sued 3Com, the original producer of the Palm Pilot PDA, in June 2000 for patent infringement over Graffiti, the simplified, single-keystroke characters used to input information into the device. PalmSource no longer uses Graffiti in its products.

3Com won an initial summary judgment. A federal appeals court reversed that ruling, finding that Graffiti did infringe. It then sent the case to the U.S. District Court to decide whether the patent was valid.

However, in making its decision, the appeals court interpreted the patent more broadly, according to Mary Doyle, senior vice president and general counsel for palmOne. "The more broadly you construe a patent," she said, "the more broadly you're casting the net on prior art."

When evaluating a patent application, examiners consider evidence of whether a similar invention had been created, discussed or conceived of earlier than the applicant's. Prior art can include drawings, memos and articles in journals.

The broader interpretation allowed palmOne to present prior art that hadn't been considered when granting the patent, without claiming that Stamford, Conn.-based Xerox would have been aware of such prior art.

The palmOne legal team presented three pieces of prior art that convinced the judge to throw out the patent: an earlier Japanese patent, an article written in 1983, and Microsoft's Pen Windows product, released in the early 1980s.

"The trial court took great pains to author a decision this time that we believe would be very difficult to overturn on appeal," Doyle said. "Even were it overturned on appeal, the trial court went further to say the patent's validity must then be determined by a jury. Which is to say we won on all counts."