updated 03:12 am EST, Wed January 22, 2014
Finds another of Samsung's patents invalid ahead of second trial
In a summary judgement issued ahead of this spring's second patent-infringement trial between Apple and Samsung over a different set of copying charges not covered in the first trial, US District Court Judge Lucy Koh has found Samsung guilty of infringing an Apple patent covering its auto-correct functionality. The judge also invalidated one of Samsung's five contested patents, saying that Apple had proved prior art on all of the Korean company's claims.
Nexus using the infringing autocorrect patent
The judgement came as part of a series of hearings in preparation for the second trial between the two tech giants, covering disputes over other patents and devices than were dealt with in the first trial, which concluded with a near-total victory for Apple in the summer of 2012, resulting in a nearly billion-dollar judgement against Samsung. Various post-trial judgements and appeals have yet to be settled in that case, but the second trial moves forward as well.
As she did in the first trial, Judge Koh has been strictly limiting both sides in terms of the number of claims made on each patent (up to 10), the number of patents to be discussed (up to five), and the number of devices said to infringe. Both Apple and Samsung are charging each other with infringing various patents.
The ruling continues Apple's nearly-unbroken string of victories against Samsung over patents claims. To date, the Korean tech corporation has yet to win any claim that Apple infringed on any of its non-standard-essential patents, and has won almost no victories on standards-essential patents (SEPs) either outside of a split-decision ruling in its home country of Korea. Because of its habit of attempting to litigate SEP disputes, Samsung is under investigation (alongside Google-owned Motorola, which also tends to improperly litigate over SEPs) in Europe and other countries.
The patent that was thrown out of the case in the pre-trial hearing through invalidation was one that Samsung purchased months after its legal battles with Apple began, leading patent law analyst Florian Mueller to suspect that Samsung's purpose in buying it was simply to use as leverage and ammunition against Apple in litigation. The Apple patent Samsung was found guilty of infringing covered the autocorrect system used by most smartphones without physical keyboards, which could spell future trouble for other manufacturers as well as Google, which incorporates the system into its Android OS.
The rulings were not a complete sweep for Apple, however: Judge Koh also denied the iPhone maker two of its own requests for summary judgement on other patents and devices. She also denied the whole of Samsung's requests for summary judgement, meaning a jury will decide those matters in a trial set for March of this year.
Presuming no further pre-trial findings are made that affect the patents between the two, Apple will be presenting five patents it charges Samsung with violating, one of which it has already won an infringement ruling on. Samsung will be able to present only four patents, ignoring the now-invalidated one. Samsung and/or Google may also be behind various "anonymous" patent re-examination claims on the Apple patent that was found to be infringed, a ruling that will render the re-examination moot for the purposes of the trial.
Coincidentally, at the same stage of proceedings in the first trial, Samsung was also denied all of its summary judgement requests -- but rather than Samsung being found guilty of infringing an Apple patent, Apple was instead cleared of violating a Samsung patent. Mueller believes the new decision significantly increases Apple's changes of winning again in the second trial, since it will be mentioned in during the trial that one patent was already so clearly infringed by Samsung that the judge did not need to bring it to a jury, and Samsung will only be able to defend that fact by saying it believes the patent in question should be invalidated.
Apple and Samsung are currently negotiating a proposed deal that would allow at least some of the many and multi-country claims between the two mobile giants to be settled. The CEOs of both companies are scheduled to meet in four weeks for a last-ditch attempt at avoiding the second trial, but according to court filings Apple is insisting on an "anti-cloning" provision that would demand Samsung stop copying the functionality, look and feel of Apple devices in its current and future products -- which is apparently a sticking point with Samsung.