Thursday, April 22, 2010

Monec v. Apple: maybe the iPhone's display isn't small after all

Looking back: Earlier I posted (here) about Apple's victory against holding company Monec. Apple won summary judgment of non-infringement in the Eastern District of Virginia before discovery even began. The claims require a display dimensioned to display a "normal size" book page, while the iPhone's display is only 2" x 3". Apple won primarily on arguments characterizing the claims to require a "relatively large display," and that no reasonable person could understand the iPhone display to be "relatively large."

Interesting Postscript: Monec didn't give up easily, and appears to be positioning itself for another run at Apple based on new evidence. Monec says Apple's own advertisements contradict Apple's earlier position that no reasonable person could understand the iPhone display to be relatively large. 

The parties settled the suit and filed a joint motion to vacate the district court's earlier judgment. In arguing for vacatur, Monec pointed to various pieces of new evidence. Monec introduced an Apple advertisement describing the iPhone screen as "large." Monec also offered new evidence — an Apple patent — that the phrase “relatively large” would be understood as comparing the display area to the device as a whole, rather than as an absolute dimension.

The court did vacate the judgment, which means that collateral estoppel will not apply, and Monec is free to relitigate against Apple.

It's obvious why Monec would want the judgment vacated: though no Markman hearing was held, Monec was on the losing end of whatever "claim construction" was present in the judgment. But how could vacatur benefit Apple?

According to the joint motion, vacatur would avoid the possibility of judicial estoppel in whatever future patent litigations that Apple might bring against parties infringing on its various touch-screen patents.

In litigating its touch-screen patents, Apple might want the freedom to argue that the i-product screens are large, or at least not small. Yet Apple urged, and the Monec v. Apple court ruled, that the i-product displays are "small," allowing a future Apple adversary to estop Apple from making  arguments about screen size that run counter to Apple's previous position. But the district court's vacatur of the Monec v. Apple judgment removes the possibility of this judicial estoppel issue, thus benefiting Apple.


  1. Some lawyers need to die. Particularly the ones who bring about patent-troll lawsuits.

    As some lawyer jokes say, the best place for a lawyer is the bottom of the ocean with the rest of the sharks.

  2. I'm not sure that vacatur is all that helpful to Apple. Apple does avoid preclusion, but the fact that Apple made those arguments is still true and is a matter of public record. Even with the vacatur, an opponent can still point out that Apple relied primarily on little screen arguments in the previous litigation.