Apple pips Samsung in latest patent battle

Apple is on a winning streak in its continuing patent feud with Samsung Electronics.

Apple is on a winning streak in its continuing patent feud with Samsung Electronics.

The US International Trade Commission on Friday upheld a preliminary finding that Samsung's mobile products had violated two Apple Inc patents.

The decision, unless vetoed by the president, will result in an import ban on some of Samsung's mobile devices.

The commission's order did not specifically list which Samsung products would be banned. But Susan Kohn Ross, an international trade lawyer for Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, said that because Apple initially brought its lawsuit against Samsung in 2011, it likely would affect older products.

Ms Ross said the only thing clear about the decision was that it gave Apple serious leverage in its battle with Samsung. The South Korean company could be more willing to concede in its future disputes with Apple to avoid additional patent problems in the US, she said.

The decision is the latest in a string of victories for Apple in its patent disputes with Samsung. Last Saturday, the Obama administration vetoed the federal commission's ban on Apple mobile products in a separate case brought by Samsung.

Also on Friday, Apple made arguments to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for a permanent injunction against the sale of some Samsung mobile products, a request that previously was denied. The court has not yet released a decision. Apple and Samsung, which together make all the profits in the handset industry and dominate worldwide smartphone sales, have been fighting each other with patents in the US and other countries. Last year, a California jury awarded Apple $US1 billion in damages after deciding that Samsung had violated the American company's mobile patents. The amount was later reduced to $US599 million.

In Friday's case with the trade commission, Apple accused Samsung of violating four patents, including a design patent for the general look of an iPhone - a rectangle with rounded corners - and a utility patent for a method to detect when headphones are plugged into a device. The commission said Samsung had violated the patent regarding headphone detection and another patent covering the mechanics for touch-screen technology.

Samsung could carry out workarounds to the design of its hardware and software to circumvent the ban. In a statement expressing disappointment on Friday, the company suggested it was already doing that.

"Apple has been stopped from trying to use its over-broad design patents to achieve a monopoly on rectangles and rounded corners," said Adam Yates, a company spokesman. "Samsung will continue to launch many innovative products and we have already taken measures to ensure that all of our products will continue to be available in the United States."

Apple said it was pleased with the outcome. "With today's decision, the ITC has joined courts around the world in Japan, Korea, Germany, Netherlands and California by standing up for innovation and rejecting Samsung's blatant copying of Apple's products," said Kristin Huguet, an Apple spokeswoman. "Protecting real innovation is what the patent system should be about."

The Obama administration, already facing political pressure, has 60 days to review the order. Last week, the South Korean government expressed concern over the administration's decision to overturn the trade commission's order for a ban on some Apple products, calling the move an act of "protectionism".

The administration said it had vetoed the commission's ban on Apple products because the patents involved were so-called standards-essential patents, which cover basic technologies that companies need to use in their products to comply with industry standards. In this case, the standard involved wireless communications for mobile devices.

Friday's order to ban Samsung's products does not involve standards-essential patents. But Robert Merges, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said it was possible the administration would overturn Friday's decision as part of a broader move to diminish the power of patent litigation as an industry weapon.

New York Times