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US court allows Apple suit over Siri patents to continue

updated 09:14 pm EST, Fri March 8, 2013

Judge had questioned whether it would proceed during appeal process

Judge Lucy Koh, who has been overseeing the primary US court battles between Apple and Samsung, ruled Friday to allow a second lawsuit against the Korean electronics giant to proceed -- despite expressing reservations on the idea while the appeal of the first Apple-Samsung trial is still being heard. Koh was apparently persuaded by filings from Apple's lawyers that the second case should go forward because of "ongoing" infringement and harm to Apple. The new case involves patents related to Apple's Siri voice assistant.

The case is an entirely different one than the patent trial that Apple won last August. In that case, a jury fined Samsung over $1 billion after finding that the company had deliberately copied Apple's designs and software in order to gain competitive advantage with its products, and rejected all counter-claims by Samsung of Apple infringement.

Last week, however, Judge Koh set aside $450 million of the award and ordered a retrial on that portion of the damages, as well as denying Apple's request for permanent sales bans on the infringing products. The retrial does not absolve Samsung of its guilt, but could result in lower fines -- or possibly higher ones -- on some of the infringing products, with the judge claiming that some awards against some Samsung products were calculated using "bad legal theory."

Apple (now joined by Nokia) has strongly objected to Koh's believe that a "causal nexus" needs to be present in an infringing product, meaning that consumers must find the infringing patent to be a feature that motivates them to buy the product. Apple argues that infringement is infringement regardless of what portion of a device was found to be infringed, and that such a ruling would set "an impossibly high bar" for infringement victims to prove monetary harm, effectively allowing copycats to continue infringing.

The new trial will be allowed to proceed, in which Apple will attempt to show that Samsung "slavishly" copied various parts of the search technology behind Siri in its own implementation of the voice-powered assistant, which Samsung calls "S-Voice." The trial is scheduled to begin a year from now, in March of 2014. The appeal of both the main trial (by Samsung) and of Koh's revisiting of the damage assessments (by Apple) will presumably be settled by then, but could run in parallel as the two cases involve different sets of patents.

In addition to allowing the case to proceed, Koh has again ordered a significant "streamlining" of issues in the new case, ordering both parties to cut down the number of legal claims and expert witnesses that will be allowed to testify. Koh did the same in the previous patent trial, strictly limiting the scope and duration of the trial, down to a set number of hours provided for expert testimony, even including cross-examination and rebuttals.

In earlier hearings, Koh had said she was "dubious" about the importance of allowing the second case to proceed before the first trial's appeals are exhausted. Samsung, continuing its pattern of dragging out legal proceedings as long as possible, supported the delay in the interests of "judicial economy," but Apple strongly objected. The iPhone maker wrote in its filing that the case must proceed "now," saying that it was necessary "in order to stop the ongoing sales -- and relentless launch -- of Samsung's latest infringing devices, which have caused and every day continue to cause continuing harm to Apple."

The filing hints that Apple may go so far as to seek an injunction on the forthcoming Samsung flagship Galaxy S4 smartphone, which incorporates the disputed search technology. Judge Koh has had a mixed track record of supporting Apple injunction requests, but did issue temporary bans on some Samsung products before the start of the first trial.

by MacNN Staff



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