updated 08:54 pm EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
What does the infringed patent cover technologically?
As almost a footnote to the second Apple versus Samsung smartphone battle, Apple was found to be infringing Samsung's patent number 6,226,449, covering an "apparatus for recording and reproducing digital image and speech." Samsung was awarded $158,400 for Apple's infringement of the patent, as it was seen to be non-willful by the jury. At the same time, Apple was found to not be in violation at all of Samsung's other claim, patent number 5,579,239, which covers a "Remote Video Transmission System." What do the rulings mean for Apple, and what do the pair of patents cover?
The text of the patent is written in standard patent talk. From the United States Patent and Trade Office, the '449 patent text reads that it is "a digital image and speech recording and reproducing apparatus is arranged to quickly and simply retrieve, classify, and erase a great deal of data for improving the operativity in small-sized equipment. The apparatus includes a recording and reproducing unit for a moving image signal, a recording and reproducing unit for a still image signal, a recording and reproducing unit for a digital speech signal operated in synchronous to the image, a display for displaying the image for said moving image signal or said still image signal, a recording condition recording unit for recording recording conditions containing data information about recorded data for distinguishing said moving image from said still image and recording time information for recording an image or a speech."
The '449 patent wasn't originally Samsung's patent -- it was acquired from Hitachi in 2010 for $2.39 million, specifically to use as a weapon against Apple. The patent covers methods of storing, displaying, and finding JPEG files and other video objects. Specifically, the infringing element of the iOS is the "camera roll" metaphor for storing images captured by the camera in iOS devices. Apple's devices in violation of the '449 patent are the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5, as well as the fourth- and fifth-generation iPod touch.
The '239 patent was also purchased from Hitachi, but in a seperate transaction in 2011. It was granted in 1996 -- nearly two decades ago, and many generations of technology past. The patent filing addresses "a remote video transmission system for digitizing and compressing an audio/visual signal, transmitting that signal over low bandwidth lines, such as land telephone lines, cellular telephone lines, or radio frequencies, decompressing the digitized data and converting it to an audio/visual signal for broadcast."
The '239 patent was asserted against Apple's FaceTime technology. During the trial, not only did Apple refute claims against it -- using the minutiae of the patent itself to render it moot -- but noted that it had expired some time ago. The '239 patent wasn't included in the first Apple versus Samsung smartphone patent trial, and Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal took issue with it being included in this trial, and not the former in pre-trial hearings.
Both parties could file for device sales injunctions on the devices held in violation of patents in the trial. Of all the devices named in the trial, only the iPhone 4S is still on the market, as a "free" phone with contract in the US. The Galaxy SIII and iPhone 4S are also sold widely in developing markets. Apple will certainly appeal the action, as well as probably develop a work-around for the infringement in iOS 8 (or future iterations of the OS if the appeal process is lengthy). A sneak preview of iOS 8, expected later this year, is likely to be seen at the next World Wide Developer's Conference in June.
The net cost in dollars awarded by the court to Apple is negligible, as is the gain from Samsung's infringement. In a world where technology companies aim to make $100 million profit in a quarter and will call it a victory, Apple generates the kind of profit it is being asked to pay Samsung in less than a day. As for Apple's unintentional infringement, it's easy to say a software workaround for a patent infringement finding is the easy solution -- but there are so many variables and dependencies in modern coding that it may cost more for Apple to work around the contested patent in the iOS than it has to pay in damages.