One step forward, two steps back: ITC rules that Samsung infringes four new Apple patents

October 25, 2012
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We’ve had plenty of twists and turns in the Apple vs Samsung patent war over the last few months, but things have gotten crazier than ever these past couple of weeks. Sammy seemed capable to rise from its ashes despite a long string of painful defeats, but just when we were ready to celebrate a couple of meaningful wins for our Android kings, Apple hit back.

And what a hit it is! Definitely not as massive as the one from California in August, but much more important than Samsung’s minor wins of late.

The US International Trade Commission (ITC) has made a preliminary ruling regarding new Apple accusations of infringement on four patents, finding Samsung once again guilty of copying Cupertino “innovation”.

The four patents relate to both design and software, but have nothing to do with those that have been the subject of the California trial currently in appeal. That means Samsung is in a new sea of trouble, though the ITC’s ruling is only preliminary, being given out by Judge Thomas Pender until it can be reviewed by the full commission.

Even if the commission’s decision will also be in favor of Apple (and it could well be), it’s not all doom and gloom for Samsung, as the case will then pass through the usual law hoops, including several appeals before the accusations can be taken in front of a jury.

What should be Sammy’s immediate concern is a possible Apple motion for import bans, which might well follow this preliminary ruling. That could hurt Samsung badly, although we don’t know yet exactly what phones are accused of infringement of these patents.

It could have been even worse for the Korean-based company, as Apple’s original complaint, filed in July 2011, brought accusations regarding five utility and two design patents. One patent was withdrawn soon after, while Judge Pender’s ruling found no violation of another two.

The four remaining ones describe “an ornamental design of an electronic device” (U.S. Design Patent D618,678), “a touch screen device, method, and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics” (7,479,949), “a method and apparatus for providing translucent images on a computer display” (RE41,922), and “an audio I/O headset plug and plug detection circuitry” (7,912,501).

As usual, Samsung quickly issued a formal statement through the voice of Adam Yates, Director of North America Corporate Communications, which said that “There is no legal basis for the motion for injunction by Apple. We will continue to serve our customers and sales of Samsung products will proceed as usual. Samsung will continue to actively defend and protect our intellectual property to ensure our continued innovation and growth in the mobile communications business.”

Meanwhile, Apple declined to comment on the ruling, although we’re guessing celebratory dances are going on in Cupertino as we speak. Still, this is only one, albeit pretty important, won battle for Apple, with the war being wide-open for new surprises. Samsung’s got something cooking too, so everything’s to play for.

Do you agree? Is this another normal day for the Apple vs Samsung brawl? Or could it be the final nail in Sammy’s coffin?

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