ITC Judge Says Samsung Infringed Apple Text Patent
It's a minor software feature, but it could cause Samsung to institute some major workarounds to continue U.S. sales of some of its smartphones. The company is pondering its next move after an International Trade Commssion judge ruled that Samsung infringed an Apple patent for a text selection feature. Samsung devices with those features could eventually be banned from the U.S., but there are some options available that might help the company avoid that possibility.
04/08/13 12:35 PM PT
A judge with the International Trade Commission has ruled that Samsung infringed an Apple text selection patent, a move that could result in some company devices being banned from importation into the U.S.
The decision, made March 26 but not made public until last week, is preliminary, according to a report from Reuters. The full ITC panel will vote on the ruling and a final decision is expected in August.
ITC Judge Thomas Pender ruled that Samsung violates an Apple patent regarding the way text selection is displayed on mobile device screens in an Android browser application, and in the translucent buttons in the Android photo gallery.
Last October, Pender ruled that Samsung had infringed four Apple patents. After the full commission reviewed the decision, however, they asked Pender to reconsider on two of the patents. In the new decision, Pender ruled that Samsung did not infringe a patent regarding how devices recognize other devices plugged in through the microphone jack.
Neither Apple nor Samsung responded to our request to comment for this story.
If the commission upholds the decision, the ITC could ban Samsung from shipping the infringing devices to the U.S. Apple filed the initial patent claim in 2011, so the forthcoming Galaxy S4 would not be included. However, the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and the Galaxy Transform could be caught up in a ban based on the patent infringement.
However, Samsung would have options before surrendering to such a sentence. The company has the option of appealing the decision, said Roman Tsibulevskiy, patent attorney at Goldstein Patent Law. Since the two tech giants are fighting several patent battles worldwide, Samsung would be able to gauge the current climate regarding court decisions and decide whether an appeal would be a solid strategy come August.
If not, the company could also simply develop a workaround to the infringing features, Tsibulevskiy added.
"Since the patent is limited to software, Samsung can quickly remove the infringing feature from the devices via an over-the-air update, or Samsung can design around the patent," he told the E-Commerce Times. "Samsung does not want to pull the devices off the shelves as they primarily care about sales. I doubt users would suddenly change their purchasing preferences for Apple devices over one minor software feature."
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Even if the ITC does agree with Judge Pender, the possibilities for Samsung's appeal or workaround make it clear that the ongoing fight between these rivals isn't anywhere near complete, said Douglas Sorocco, patent attorney at Dunlap Codding.
It's becoming a bitter fight in worldwide sales between Samsung and Apple mobile devices, so the two continue to use lawsuits as weapons, Sorocco said. At this point, however, the companies can merely keep poking each other back and forth rather than try to deliver a killing blow.
"Each company has a significant portfolio of patents and pending applications that can be used strategically," he told the E-Commerce Times. "None of the patents are clear knockouts, however -- i.e., none of the patents cover the broad concept of a smartphone -- which forces both companies to leapfrog from one patented feature to another in an attempt to deliver a devastating blow."
In addition to the current courtroom fights, the two companies are also likely preparing for the future battles that new products and innovation will bring, said Tsibulevskiy.
"Recently Samsung announced a smartwatch product before Apple," he noted. "I am curious whether this announcement was intentional so that Apple cannot claim copying from Samsung, i.e. insurance against the same type of patent wars in wearable devices."