​Apple wins symbolic Samsung US ban - but faces backlash from tech giants

Tech heavyweights have come out in support of Samsung's Supreme Court challenge to damages awarded to Apple over design patents, as Apple wins a symbolic victory on several software patents.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Samsung's flagship device, the Galaxy S, can still include the disputed slide-to-unlock software.

Image: ZDNet

Apple has won a US sales ban on certain software in Samsung's phones. But tech giants, including Dell, Google, and HPE, are rallying behind the Korean firm over "dangerous" design patent damages previously awarded to Apple.

A US court has banned Samsung from selling software that makes its smartphones infringe on three Apple patents, including its 'slide to unlock' patent, one for predictive text, and another 'autocorrect' patent.

As noted by Foss Patents blogger Florian Mueller, the ruling only applies to software found on Samsung's older smartphones and so delivers Apple little advantage, other than a victory for its lawyers, who have long sought an injunction of the type awarded.

As Mueller points out, the autocorrect patent is set to expire in 10 days' time, whereas the court has given Samsung a month to comply with the injunction.

Meanwhile, Apple's slide-to-unlock patent may still be held invalid and the only devices covered by the injunction were Samsung's Admire, Galaxy Nexus, and Stratosphere but not its flagship Galaxy Note and Galaxy S.

"So Samsung can still provide the functionality by simply avoiding the implementation it used in its oldest products. If the patent is indeed held invalid, then Samsung can also use the older implementations, but it presumably won't even be interested in that," he noted.

Samsung told Bloomberg the ruling will not impact American consumers, but accused Apple of "abusing the judicial system to create bad legal precedent, which can harm consumer choice for generations to come".

Samsung has also gained some new friends in its US Supreme Court challenge to the 2012 patent ruling, which resulted in it having to pay Apple $548m.

Samsung agreed to pay Apple the sum in early December ahead of filing its Supreme Court challenge later that month, seeking a decision on what damages can be awarded for design patents.

As ZDNet's sister site CNET reports, legal experts, non-profit bodies, and tech companies have filed amicus or 'friend of the court' briefs in support of Samsung.

A joint brief from tech companies Dell, eBay, Facebook, Google, HP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Newegg, Pegasystems, and Vizio outlines concerns that existing patent laws could result in less choice and higher cost for consumers.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA), which has also filed a brief, is worried that laws on design-patent damages are already encouraging patent trolls to target companies that actually make products.

"The Federal Circuit's decision with respect to design-patent damages raises constitutional concerns, is a misreading of the statute, and is dangerous to the technology industry," CCIA said in its brief.

"The correct interpretation of the design patent damages statute is being closely watched by technology companies, as well as by patent assertion entities targeting them," CCIA patent counsel Matt Levy said.

"Patent assertion entities are already using the appeals court's decision to threaten operating companies with the total loss of their profits. This decision encourages design patent law to be applied in a way that was never intended. We think the lower court misinterpreted the law and would encourage the Supreme Court to hear Samsung's case."

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