Google Wants Supreme Court to Review Chrome Patent Dispute

The company wants SCOTUS to weigh in on how patent claims should be properly construed.

Google patents

Google wants the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on a patent infringement dispute involving its Chrome browser.

In a petition filed earlier this month, the company asked the Supreme Court to consider whether an appeals court's view on how claims made in a patent application should be interpreted is in fact valid.

The case at the center of the dispute goes back to 2013 when inventor Alfonso Cioffi sued Google in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. In the lawsuit, Cioffi claimed that an anti-malware feature in Google's Chrome web browser violated four of his patents.

The patents covered a method for protecting a computer from internet-borne malware by using a sandbox to isolate and execute malicious software safely.

The district court that heard the case rejected Cioffi's claims and held that Google had not violated any patent with its anti-malware protections in Chrome.

Central to the decision was the court's interpretation of two of the claims that Cioffi had made in the patents pertaining to a "web browser process" and a "critical file." While Cioffi's lawyers maintained that the terms as defined in the claim were narrow and specific in scope, Google argued that there were no common definitions for these terms on which to base an infringement claim.

Muddying the waters, at least for Cioffi, was the fact that the four patents at the center of the dispute were in fact so-called reissue patents that had been issued after the patent office had disallowed the claims on his initial application. To get the reissue patents, Cioffi had to amend his original claims and make them more specific and narrow. For instance, instead of claiming a "browser process," Cioffi claimed a more specific "web browser process" in his amended application.

Google maintained that rather than considering the specific asserted claims in the amended patent application, the district court should look at the history of the patents instead to determine what Cioffi really meant when first applying for the patents.

After the district court ruled in Google's favor, Cioffi appealed the decision with the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which in turn reversed the lower court decision.

Fortune was the first to report on Google's Supreme Court petition.

In arriving at the decision, the appeals court held it would accept Cioffi's definition of the claims because there was nothing in the history of the patents to specifically disavow his claims.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, Google wants the court to decide which of these interpretations is applicable in the present case.

Continued uncertainly on how patent claims are construed can have an "inimical" effect on the functioning of the patent system, Google said in its petition. "It has also led to serious abuse."

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.