Apple Draws First Blood in Latest Patent Battle With Samsung

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Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has apparently won the first fight in its latest patent battle with Samsung (SSNLF.PK). On Tuesday, Judge Lucy Koh, who has presided over much of the ongoing intelectual-property war between the two tech companies, made two pre-trial judgements in Apple’s favor: first, Judge Koh invalidated a multimedia synchronization patent ostensibly held by Samsung; second, she determined that Samsung violated an autocorrect patent held by Apple.

The ruling is just the latest in a series of legal losses for the Korean tech manufacturer, and weaken’s the company’s position ahead of CEO-level negotiations in February and a trial set for the end of March. The latest battle revolves around 9 claims (5 from Apple, 4 from Samsung, now that one was voided), and Apple has already won on one of them. Given the history of the IP war to date and Apple’s success in the pre-trial judgements, it looks like Samsung could be walking away a little more worse for the wear.

Apple drew first blood in August of 2012 when a California jury found that Samsung had infringed on a majority of the patents in question at the time, and set initial penalties at $1 billion. Judge Koh later reduced the penalty by about $450 million. Judge Koh also refused to ban the sale of eight devices that violated the patent.

Samsung did log a quasi-victory when it brought a case before the International Trade Commission, which ruled that Apple had violated IP law with the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 and that sales of the devices should be banned in the U.S. However, in a rare and last-minute move, President Barack Obama vetoed the ITC order.

The chief executive officers of both tech companies are slated to have sit-down face-to-face negotiations in February, but there doesn’t seem to be much hope of a deal emerging from the meeting. In his blog, patent guru Florian Mueller suggests that Apple will insist that an anti-cloning provision be part of any possible deal. Such a provision would mean that, once the dust from the current battle settles, Apple would still have the right to sue Samsung if, as Mueller put it, “Samsung’s products resembled Apple’s offerings too closely in ways that could actually be avoided by means of designarounds.”

Apple appears to have the upper hand heading toward the February negotiations and the March trial, and investors don’t seem too worried about penalties or a sales ban. However, shares of Apple stock are down fractionally this year to date as investors brace for fiscal first-quarter earnings, and digest news that activist investor Carl Icahn bought $3 billion worth of shares.

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