How Apple Could Stop Sales of Patent-Infringing Smartphones

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The smartphone-centered legal battles between Samsung and Apple have been ongoing for years, to the point that the disputes between the two smartphone makers have been an almost constant backdrop. But a recent court decision could enable Apple to prevent Samsung — or any other smartphone manufacturer, for that matter — from creating phones that infringe on Cupertino’s patents.

As Adrianna Lee reports for ReadWrite, a United State federal appeals court sided with Apple in the latest ruling made in the four-year battle between the smartphone giants. A previous decision awarded Apple almost $120 million in damages, but didn’t require Samsung to pull patent-infringing features from its mobile devices. So Apple appealed, hoping to patch what it viewed as a hole in the decision. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington agreed with Apple, ruling that, “The right to exclude competitors from using one’s property rights is important. And the right to maintain exclusivity — a hallmark and crucial guarantee of patents rights deriving from the Constitution itself — is likewise important.”

The ruling, which pertains to Apple’s patents for slide-to-unlock, autocorrect, and quicklinks, won’t have any immediate effects on Samsung, which has already removed the features from most of its current phones. Lee reports that only one of its devices uses the quicklinks feature. But she notes that that doesn’t mean that Samsung has given up; in fact, it’s appealing the latest decision as well as the original infringement verdict. If it wins its appeal, that would nullify both previous victories for Apple.

Lee also notes that while Samsung has largely dropped the relevant features from its smartphones, the decision could have a bigger effect on other smartphone makers than on Samsung itself. Apple could use the decision to target other smartphone manufacturers that it perceives as infringing on its patents. Additionally, Brent Kendall and Daisuke Wakabayashi report for The Wall Street Journal that Apple could attempt to use an injunction to go after newer Samsung devices if they introduce features that are similar to the patents at issue, and Stanford University law professor Mark Lemley told the publication, “That’s where the action is going to be.”

When queried by The Wall Street Journal, an Apple spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the ruling, or on Apple’s next move now that the California trial court that previously denied Apple’s request “abused its discretion when it did not enjoin Samsung’s infringement.” However, the spokesman reiterated the company’s previous comments that “courts around the world” have found that Samsung “willfully stole our ideas and copied our products,” effectively forcing the company to compete against its own inventions.

Kendall and Wakabayashi report that an important part of the most recent court debate centered on whether Apple was able to show “a sufficient connection between the patents at issue in the case and demand for infringing Samsung phones.” The court’s majority said that the evidence established that Apple’s patented features “were important to product sales and that customers sought these features in the phones they purchased.”

That characterization was challenged by chief judge Sharon Prost, who argued that two of the patents at issue were related to “minor features” in the iPhone: the phone’s slide-to-unlock feature and a data-tapping feature that enables a user to call a phone number in an email by tapping on it.

A Samsung spokesman said that it plans to ask the appeals court to reconsider the decision, this time with a broader roster of participating judges. He added, “We want to reassure our millions of loyal customers that all of our flagship smartphones, which are wanted and loved by American consumers, will remain for sale and available for customer service support in the U.S.”

Shara Tibken reports for CNET that the latest ruling in the ongoing battle between Apple and Samsung “could have wide-ranging effects on the patent landscape, particularly when it comes to devices like smartphones that have a complex variety of patents and features.” The precedent set by the decision could potentially make it easier for patent holders to receive sales bans on competitors’ products, which gives them more power in negotiations.

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