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In reference to the patent: US9383820

Hello, I want to understand the scope of this patent. From what I saw they are patenting custom vibration patterns in relation to creation of alerts. Though, I do not understand if they are patenting the custom vibration patterns or the custom vibration patterns in relation to alerts. What is the scope of their invention cause I see creating custom patterns by touching the screen as obvious.

I want to create a custom massager application. The application will allow the user to input a custom pattern by touching the screen with the approach mentioned in the above patent (without visuals) and after he is done the pattern will be stored and used to massage the user. Will that patent prevent me from developing my application? I do not want to get sued by a large corporation. I am planning on selling my application if that matters.

Thanks.

  • Can you clarify that when you use the term "massager" you are not meaning something that sends messages? – Eric Shain Feb 14 '17 at 2:49
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Let's look at the first claim of this patent:

  1. A method performed by one or more processes executing on an electronic device, the method comprising:

receiving tactile input from a user of the electronic device, the tactile input comprising a pattern of tap events detected on a touch-sensitive surface of the electronic device;

providing haptic and visual feedback, together at substantially the same time, to the user of the electronic device corresponding to the pattern of tap events entered during the receiving of the tactile input;

associating a custom vibration pattern with the received tactile input;

storing the custom vibration pattern for use by the electronic device; and

signaling a notification event or alert to the user of the electronic device by actuating haptic feedback corresponding to the stored custom vibration pattern.

In short: On a device the user enters a pattern of taps, the device gives haptic and visual feedback at the same time and a custom vibration pattern is associated with the input and used to vibrate this way for a specific notification.

Example: You want your whatsapp messages to vibrate differently if your girlfriend messages you.

Your case is actually interesting, as you might be infringing this claim when using your massager. The claim doesn't specify what kind of electronic device.

I'll try an analysis, but please note, this is no legal advice - especially - I might be wrong.

A method performed by one or more processes executing on an electronic device, the method comprising:

Yes, a massager is an electronic device.

receiving tactile input from a user of the electronic device, the tactile input comprising a pattern of tap events detected on a touch-sensitive surface of the electronic device;

If you use a touchscreen ..., basically all input is a pattern.

providing haptic and visual feedback, together at substantially the same time, to the user of the electronic device corresponding to the pattern of tap events entered during the receiving of the tactile input;

THIS - probably aimed at showing the user what vibration pattern he is selecting the device provides immediat feedback, visually AND haptically. If your massager does not provide immediate haptic feedback, it cannot infringe this claim.

associating a custom vibration pattern with the received tactile input;

depending on the definition of vibration in the patents describtion, you might have your massager not infringe by vibrating for example harder, though thats a long shot and relying on the description to get out of infringement is always dangerous.

storing the custom vibration pattern for use by the electronic device; and

Well..

signaling a notification event or alert to the user of the electronic device by actuating haptic feedback corresponding to the stored custom vibration pattern.

And THIS. The saved vibration pattern is used to signal the user of the device an notification event or an alert. I don't see where a massager would do this, unless you program that the user can enter a specific end sequenze to signal that the end of the massage is coming or something like this.

So you see, careful analysis shows, you are probably not infirnging. There might be some path for arguing that the field of the patent differentiates substantially from what you do, but honestly, I don't know if that works. Anyways, I'd say you're safe. But please remember, this is just my opinion based on a short and shallow analysis.

  • yeah I have read that claims are regarded as a whole and cannot be divided. I can see from the claim that they do the custom vibrations and assign them to the notifications. What is really odd is how they got to patent something this obvious. Inputting values by means of touching the screen? I guess, this is what they mean by patent trolling. Should I wait for someone to offer a sound legal advice or this is not the site for that? Thanks. – Lynn B. Feb 12 '17 at 23:38
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    @LynnB. Nearly everything looks obvious in hind sight. – Eric Shain Feb 12 '17 at 23:54
  • Thats not what's meant with patent trolling. As Eric said, just because it sounds obvious now .. If it was that obvious, the first iphone would have had it. Often the invention is to find the problem, not the solution. Anyways, this is probably the most advice-like you will get. Nobody in his right mind is going to tell you his answer constitutes legal advice as that would make them liable if wrong. If you want more, consult a patent attorney, get a non-infringement opinion. I'd guess $1-3k. Sorry, but thats how it is. Either you rely on your own opinion, or you pay a lot for an attorneys. – DonQuiKong Feb 13 '17 at 6:57
  • @LynnB. A freedom to operate opinion may be a sound expenditure. My understanding is that if you have one, then if you are sued and lose you may be able to avoid punitive damages since it wouldn't be willful infringement. This may be jurisdiction based however. – Eric Shain Feb 13 '17 at 15:57
  • @DonQuiKong, thanks. I really appreciate it. – Lynn B. Feb 13 '17 at 20:58
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All of the answers in here helpful yet hesitant to provide a tangible legal advice. Searching through the questions asked I have found this answer by @George White. The answer provides a detailed description on what to do with the patent claims to know exactly where you stand. Also, its an answer by a patent agent. So, I decided to quote this answer here for anyone who is having doubts just like me:

If an independent method claim 1 has 6 steps, to infringe that claim one entity must perform all 6 steps. A different claim 2 depending from 1 essentially says "do all those 6 steps plus these two (for example) more steps. To infringe 1 you must do the 6 steps. To infringe 2 you must do the eight steps. In both cases it is all steps of a particular claim. Anyone who infringes 2, is by definition also infringing 1. If you are doing all 8 steps you are obviously doing the 6 steps.

To infringe a dependent claim one must do all of the steps in all the claims in the chain of claims it depends from as well as the steps specifically written in that dependent claim's text.

Source: A patent with both apparatus (i.e. system) and method?

Thanks @George White

  • Although George White is quite specific, I think my answer says the same thing when I specify "...see if what you intend to do with your app implements each and every step of the claim. If you do, then you infringe on the patent". – Eric Shain Feb 14 '17 at 2:48
  • You quote a useful answer to another question which while appropriate, doesn't specifically answer the original question which cites a specific patent. The other answers do answers (correctly I believe) the original question. – Eric Shain Feb 14 '17 at 16:41
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The cited patent covers the generation and use of custom vibration patterns on Apple devices. It has been a feature on iPhones for a while. What you need to do is carefully read the claims of the patent (especially the independent claims) and see if what you intend to do with your app implements each and every step of the claim. If you do, then you infringe on the patent.

I'm not going to provide a legal opinion, but if you look at the independent claims of the cited patent, each one ends with associating the custom vibration pattern with a notification event. Since you are trying to build an app that massages the user as opposed to messages ("ma" vs "me") you might be ok since the custom vibration pattern isn't tied to a notification event.

On the other hand, nothing stops you from being sued even if you really don't infringe on a patent. Lots of patent trolls do this sort of thing. The threat of a long and expensive court case being enough to obtain a settlement. Who knows if Apple sees your app as a legal threat.

  • I have read on multiple legal sites that the claim is regarded as a whole and cannot be divided. It is said that if a claim contains one sentence, that means it is obligatory. I do not see why Apple would patent the obvious. I mean they are patenting the creation of custom patterns for notifications which is available in plenty of apps that was released before the filing of that patent. I strongly dislike those patent trolls. Is not recording input from the screen is rather an obvious technique? – Lynn B. Feb 12 '17 at 18:28
  • I am not aware of other implications prior to Apples. If you can cite prior art, then this patent can be challenged. As for patent trolls, they are usually non-practicing entities of which Apple is clearly not. – Eric Shain Feb 12 '17 at 20:04
  • there are multiple examples of the same technology. There is Smart Vibrator and Handcent SMS which are available since 2010 and do the same purpose with only one exception. You input the patterns manually without using buttons. I mean you can put 0,150,150 in a textbox and assign it. Then, repeat for the rest. – Lynn B. Feb 12 '17 at 23:33
  • @LynnB. What you describe, isn't what is covered by the patent then. Using sensors and haptic feedback is a significant usability improvement, hence the patent. I'm not sure why you seem frustrated. Both of us are suggesting you may be free to pursue your app. In any case if either DonQuiKong's or my answer is helpful to you, please consider accepting it. – Eric Shain Feb 13 '17 at 15:51

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