updated 07:35 pm EDT, Fri September 14, 2012
Samsung's complaints without merit, judge finds
Apple has emerged the victor in a case of claimed patent infringement brought by Samsung to the US branch of the International Trade Commission (ITC), where a judge has ruled [PDF] that Apple was not infringing on any of four patents brought by Samsung. The Korean smartphone rival has tried repeatedly to prove that Apple is itself infringing on Samsung patents, but apart from a partial victory in its home country, has thus far been unable to persuade any courts of this notion. Apple had no comment on the victory.
In a short notice posted on the court's website, Judge James Gildea ruled that Apple didn't violate Samsung's patent rights, and found that Samsung was unable to prove it had a "domestic industry" that utilized the patents. The requirement that companies use the patents they are claiming are infringed in the country in which they are suing is exclusive to the ITC, and works to Apple's favor to protect it from import bans had it lost the case. The ruling is preliminary and will be reviewed by the full ITC panel, but chances of a reversal are slim.
Of the four patents Samsung claimed were infringed, two were likely to have been ruled "standards-essential" and could have landed Samsung in legal trouble if it had pursued prosecution, as patents ruled FRAND-eligible can't be used as legal weapons. Samsung had previously dropped one of the patents before the full review was underway. Apple argued in court that Samsung had never brought up possible violations until after it was warned about its own infringements and copying of Apple products, making the claim a sham intended as a defensive bargaining chip.
The four patents involved included one (known as '114 by the last three digits of its full US patent number) that covered user interface and viewing of digital documents; a patent ('980) for a method of dialing in a smartphone; the '644 patent that covers transmitting and receiving data reliably using packet data trasmission, and the '348 patent that involves the encoding and decoding of transport format combination indicators on CDMA phones. Judge Gildea said that Apple did not violate any of the patents.
The final decision will come early next year and could be subject to an appeal to the Federal Circuit, which seems likely given both companies' tendency to appeal rulings that go against them. Apple itself has an ITC complaint against Samsung over seven different patents that will see a preliminary judgement on October 18, and is also following an investigation by the European Commission against Samsung for abuse of standards-essential patents -- the conclusion of which could influence many of the 50 worldwide lawsuits the two companies have ongoing against each other.
So far, Apple has been almost completely victorious in its battle against Samsung, whom it accuses of "slavishly" copying Apple hardware and software. Last month, a US jury trial agreed with Apple and slapped Samsung with a $1.05 billion fine and a judgement of willful infringement, which could lead to a tripling of the damages. The only significant loss Apple has had to Samsung came in a South Korean court where a judge found both parties guilty of infringing each other's patents, and issued a raft of sales bans in Korea for (mostly no longer produced) products on either side. Apple and Samsung are both appealing that ruling, as it could affect current products as well -- if and when the bans are enforced.
Samsung issued a statement on the ITC loss, saying that it remains confident "that the full commission will ultimately reach a final determination that affirms our position that Apple must be held accountable for free-riding on our technological innovations." Samsung holds some 140,000 patents worldwide and was a participant in the smartphone arena long before Apple entered the market, but its own history shows that its designs and approach to smartphones (and later tablets) took a sharp turn after Apple introduced the iPhone in 2007.