updated 05:52 pm EDT, Fri August 9, 2013
60-day review process begins on infringing devices import ban
Updated with Samsung statement on ruling The US International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled today that assorted Samsung mobile products do in fact infringe on two of four Apple-held patents in a complaint going back to 2011. The panel has issued an import embargo on some of Samsung's older mobile products, preventing it from selling and distributing the infringing devices. Today's ruling begins the 60-day Presidential review process of the ITC ruling.
Where the ITC ruling against Apple that was recently the subject of a presidential veto was about standards-essential patents (SEPs), today's ITC ruling involves four Apple patents that are not standards-essential. The preliminary ruling found that the Apple patents were in fact violated by Samsung. A follow-up investigation by the ITC's own staff added that a sales ban on the accused Samsung products would not harm the public interest, since most of the products are no longer on the market.
The two patents that the court found Samsung to be infringing are U.S. Patent No. 7,479,949 on a "touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics" and U.S. Patent No. 7,912,501 on an "audio I/O headset plug and plug detection circuitry." Apple's design patent and its "translucent images" patent were found to be not infringed by Samsung devices.
The products that will see an import and sales ban unless Samsung is the recipient of a Presidential veto are the Galaxy S 4G, Fascinate, Transform, Captivate, Intercept, Infuse 4G, plus the Galaxy Tab, and Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablets. None of the devices are available at retail in the US, and combining that fact with the non-SEP nature of this particular Apple-Samsung patent complaint makes the possibility of a veto remote.
Patent analyst Florian Mueller says of the embargo and unlikely Presidential action that "even though there may be expectations in South Korea that Samsung should benefit from a Presidential veto only because Apple just won one last Saturday, 'me too' doesn't make sense here." He added that this is because standard-essential patents come with FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) licensing obligations and can't be worked around without prohibitive switching costs.
In spite of this, the ITC ruled in favor of a sales ban on the GSM versions of the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 (along with older products) against Apple due to infringement of an SEP, which resulted in the first Presidential veto of a sales ban since 1987. In the Samsung case, "non-SEPs are traditional exclusionary rights and, most importantly, can be worked around. In fact, Samsung presented to the ITC products that it said (and Judge Pender agreed) don't infringe. If legality is so readily available, a veto isn't warranted," Mueller said.
Samsung has issued a statement on the pending embargo, saying that "we are disappointed that the ITC has issued an exclusion order based on two of Apple's patents. However, Apple has been prevented from trying to use its overbroad design patents to achieve a monopoly on rectangles and rounded corners. The proper focus for the smartphone industry is not a global war in the courts, but fair competition in the marketplace. Samsung will continue to launch many innovative products and we have already taken measures to ensure that our products will continue to be available in the United States."