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August 2012

Apple v. Samsung-Court Deems Samsung Infringed on Apple Patents

Last Friday came word that Apple thoroughly routed Samsung in the latest battle of the ongoing intellectual property war between the two most dominant players in the rapidly growing global mobile device market.  After only three days of deliberations in a U.S. District Court 10 miles from Apple’s Cupertino headquarters, the nine jurors unanimously agreed that Samsung willfully infringed three Apple utility patents and three Apple design patents by selling more than 20 different infringing models of smartphones and tablet computers in the United States.  The jury found that Samsung’s patent infringement caused Apple to suffer $1.05 billion in damages – an amount that may be as much as tripled at the discretion of the judge based on the jury’s finding that all of Samsung’s infringement was willful.  Samsung has indicated that it intends to ask the judge to modify or overturn the jury’s verdict and damages award and, if necessary, file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

The six Apple patents found to be valid and infringed by Samsung fall into three separate categories.  The D’087 and D’677 design patents cover the external appearance of smartphones, namely the rectangular shape with rounded corners embodied in the Apple iPhone series of smartphones.  The D’305 design patent covers the appearance of a smartphone GUI (graphical user interface), namely the grid of square icons on the home screen display of devices running the Apple iOS operating system.  Finally, the three utility patents found valid and infringed cover three types of functionality provided by a mobile device operating system, namely (1) scrolling through an electronic document by moving an object (e.g. a finger) along a touch screen display including the electronic document “bouncing back” when the electronic document is scrolled all the way to an edge, (2) pinch-to-zoom using two finger gestures on a touch screen and (3) tap-to-zoom and center using a gesture on a touch screen.  Notably, only the infringement of the D’087 and D’677 design patents is unique to the Samsung devices at issue.  The infringement of the D’305 design patent and the three utility patents may potentially be found in any mobile device running recent versions of the Android operating system, which was developed by Google and licensed to many device manufacturers other than Samsung.

Although the billion dollar damages award has grabbed most of the headlines, other aspects of the decision may have far more significant implications for Samsung and the entire mobile device marketplace.  For example, Apple is seeking an injunction against further import and sales of infringing Samsung devices, including several smartphones and tablets in Samsung’s popular Galaxy series of mobile devices.  Due at least in part to the success of its Galaxy products, Samsung’s market share of mobile devices has grown to be the largest in the world.  If Apple succeeds in keeping these devices off the market with an injunction, Apple likely stands to gain (and Samsung to lose) mobile device market share and goodwill.  Even more significant is the finding that Samsung devices running the Android operating system infringe utility patents embodying Apple iOS functionality, such as pinch/tap-to-zoom.  If these utility patents are ultimately found valid and enforceable after all appeals are exhausted, the Android operating system may have to be modified to avoid the Apple utility patents.  If so, Google and the manufacturers of mobile devices running Android may be forced to remove operating system functionality to which Android users have become accustomed – a result that could dramatically shift the future balance of power toward Apple in the ongoing heated battle between Apple iOS and Android devices.