Apple AirPods Surgery, Juror’s Internet Sleuthing Scuttled Trial

An Apple Inc. AirPods patent-infringement case, deemed a mistrial soon after a California jury began deliberating, was caused by one juror’s internet research and another’s surgery on a pair of earbuds to demonstrate the obviousness of a disputed invention, court filings show.

Wireless devicemaker Pinn Inc. alleges that Apple’s second-generation AirPods, and its AirPods Pro, infringe two patents related to wireless earbuds and their charging case. Judge David O. Carter declared the mistrial Aug. 10 in the US District Court for the Central District of California.

The Santa Ana jury, in a note to the judge sent at 1:04 pm on the day deliberations began, revealed that one juror “looked on internet for patent requirements and reported to us,” according to notes from the jury posted late Aug. 11.

Lawyers and representatives for each side didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the latest developments, nor have they are generally spoken in response to questions about the mistrial.

In a follow-up note, sent at 1:13 pm, the foreperson revealed that a juror “brought in earbuds whereby he cut off wires and styrofoam to show jury how obvious this was to do.” A finding that a patent claim covers an obvious invention—here, a wireless version of earbuds—would have canceled the patent, mooting any potential award of damages related to it.

Carter instructed jurors before they began deliberating that were “to decide the case instructed on the evidence received at the trial.” He also told them to “not do any research, such as consulting dictionaries, searching the Internet, or using other reference materials; and do not make any investigation or in any other way try to learn about the case on your own.”

If jurors were to do any such research, Carter said, “you will have denied the parties a fair trial.” He reminded them they had taken an oath to follow the rules, “and a mistrial could result that would require the entire trial process to start over.”

Pairing, Playing

One of Pinn’s patents, which Bloomberg Law estimates will expire in April 2036, covers a charging case that can detect whether an earbud is docked and can cause sound to begin playing through the earbud while undocked.

The other patent, also estimated to expire in April 2036, covers the wireless pairing of an earbud to a smartphone through a connection hole in the earbud’s charging case.

Randolph Square LP, a patent data-analysis firm that also partners with law firms to finance patent litigation, was listed as an investor in Pinn’s September 2019 filing that listed the case’s interested.

A July 2019 financing statement filed with California’s Secretary of State lists RSIP Licensing Series 1 LLC as Pinn’s secured party in connection with a patent-monetization agreement that used several of Pinn’s patent applications—including two that led to the patents in the Apple case—as collateral for a loan. The filing was amended that August to assign the rights to RSIP Funding Series 3-C LLC.

It is not clear how the mistrial, coupled with Pinn’s litigation-funding arrangement, might affect the dispute’s resolution.

Pinn is represented by Hatch Law PC, Connor Lee & Shumaker PLLC, Whitaker Chalk Swindle & Schwartz PLLC, and Strike For Cause Trial Consulting. Apple is represented by Fish & Richardson PC.

The case is Pinn Inc. v. Apple Inc., CD Cal., No. 8:19-cv-1805, jury notes posted 8/11/22.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *