updated 12:19 am EST, Sat November 23, 2013
Case against Apple suspended while validity of Samsung patent decided
Just hours after a US jury restored more than half of the set-aside portion of damages from the first Apple vs Samsung trial, a separate case in Germany has been suspended because the court believes that the patent Samsung is attempting to sue Apple over is invalid. The matter will be put on hold until the Federal Patent Court of Germany can determine it. Even if the patent is eventually found valid, Apple will face no injunction over its use, since it is a standards-essential patent (SEP).
The disputed patent, owned by Samsung is a declared standard part of 3G communications, a "method for configuring gain factors for uplink service in radio telecommunication system." If the court finds that the patent is invalid, the iPhone maker will owe no royalties or license fee for its use.
Apple has argued that Samsung hasn't proven that there has been any willful infringement, and has also pointed out that Samsung claim on its SEP patents - a demanded royalty of 2.4 percent per patent on every device - is far out of line with reasonable fees, as required by the Fair, Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory (FRAND) standard. Apple itself once signalled that it would accept a similar percentage of sales of Android phones, but the amount would have covered an entire host of patents numbering in the dozens rather than on a per-patent basis as Samsung and Google have argued.
The first full trial between Apple and Samsung, held in the US, was over non-SEP patents owned by Apple which Samsung has now admitted to infringing. From an original first-jury award of $1.05 billion, the final amount now settled by the second jury is just over $900 million, an insignificant reduction overall.
"Samsung's SEP assertions against Apple have raised concerns by antitrust agencies on three continents," writes patent case analyst Florian Mueller. "In December 2012, Samsung withdrew its European SEP-based injunction requests against Apple in an (unsuccessful) attempt to dissuade the European Commission from issuing a Statement of Objections (SO), a preliminary antitrust ruling. It continued to sue Apple over SEPs for damages" as it is doing in this latest German case, he notes.
Samsung previously brought a total of five SEP assertions to the German court across 2011. Three claims have already been dismissed due to a lack of proof of any infringement, and the other remaining case has also been stayed (back in January) pending a review of the validity of the patent involved. Apple's position on SEPs is that legal injunctions should not granted to infringers of standards-essential patents except in extreme cases, and that patent owners must comply with FRAND standards in licensing SEPs.
Most of the various disputes Google (through its subsidiary Motorola) and Samsung have with Apple (and Microsoft) revolve around the former two companies' excessive royalty demands for SEPs and attempts to force such fees through threats of injunctions and product bans. Apple has not sued other companies over SEPs, only over violations and infringements of patents not considered standards-essential. Google, like Samsung, has frequently asked for a 2.4 percent royalty on its SEPs, which is many times the standard rate between most companies (a few tenths of a percent is more typical).
"[Samsung] wanted to finally win a German case over one of its SEPs against Apple," writes Mueller. "For the time being, its SEP assertions in Germany have a 100 percent dropout rate, a fact that stands in stark contrast to its huge royalty demands."