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Patent Win Could Give Apple a Courtroom Midas Touch

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 18, 2013 11:00 AM PT

Apple appears to have been handed a potent weapon it can use as it battles in courtrooms around the world to assert its patent rights. Specifically, in a recent re-examination of a key multitouch patent held by Apple, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last month upheld all 20 claims included in the patent, according to a filing spotted on Thursday by FOSS Patents.

Patent Win Could Give Apple a Courtroom Midas Touch

The patent in question, U.S. Patent No. 7,479,949, is dubbed the "Steve Jobs patent" due to the extensive features covered, including a "touch screen device, method and graphical user interface for determining commands by applying heuristics."

The PTO had tentatively rejected the claims of the patent last December. Under its re-examination, however, it confirmed the patentability of all 20 claims "because the prior art neither anticipated this invention nor renders it obvious."

Apple has asserted the Steve Jobs patent against Samsung, its main foe, as well as Google's Motorola Mobility. The patent was among those considered by the International Trade Commission when it banned the import of certain Samsung products. It also plays a key role in a pending court case with Motorola Mobility.

Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

'An Industry-Changing Event'

The confirmation by the PTO is a major blow to Samsung as well as other mobile device makers that are not focusing on innovation, Trip Chowdhry, managing director of equity research for Global Equities Research, told MacNewsWorld.

In general, Chowdhry is not a fan of the current push by companies to assert patents in the place of developing new or improved products: "I think there is a tendency for some companies to do that, to use patents offensively to hold on to their market share," he explained.

Then again, there are valid instances of companies needing to defend their core intellectual property from imitators, and that's the category into which the Steve Jobs patent falls, he said.

"There is no substitute for innovation -- it is a key driver for growth," Chowdhry explained, "but relying on imitation is a losing strategy as well, and Samsung has been heavily imitating Apple in many respects."

The PTO's decision, he concluded, "could wind up being an industry-changing event."

'Difficult to Attack'

The fact that the Steve Jobs patent has been upheld by the PTO will certainly complicate legal strategies for Apple's competitors, Peter Toren, a partner with Weisbrod Matteis & Copley, told MacNewsWorld.

"It gives Apple a strong advantage in the court room -- it will be very difficult to attack the patent in any ongoing litigation now as few courts would be inclined to find it invalid under the circumstances," he explained. "Without a doubt, Apple will try to use the patent now to the full extent possible, and it could be found that many Samsung devices are infringing."

Toren won't, however, go so far as to call the development a game-changer for Apple or, for that matter, a death blow for Samsung.

"Given the scope of the patent wars between Samsung and Apple, there are plenty of areas that can still be litigated for patent infringement," he said.

In addition, as new features are developed and new devices come to market over time, even the most comprehensive of patents can become less important to an industry, Toren pointed out.

"These patent battles are not going to cease, he concluded, "just because the PTO has confirmed the patentability of a series of claims."

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