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Apple wins Samsung import ban, loses 'Battle of Rounded Corners II'

Pyrrhic victory bans only Sammy's ancient kit from US entry

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The US International Trade Commission has issued a decision in the long-running Apple-Samsung patent wars that – barring a veto by the Obama administration – bars some geriatric Samsung kit from importation into the US, but denies Apple the protection it sought in other infringment allegations, including two design patents describing a rectangular smartphone with rounded corners.

The ruling (PDF), issued Friday, supports Apple's infringement allegations of various claims in patents 7,479,949 and 7,912,501. The former relates to multi-touch graphical user interface technology (and names the late Steve Jobs as lead inventor), and the latter covers the detection of an audio plug's insertion and removal from a phone.

While the upholding of an Apple patent that covers multi-touch GUI may sound fatal for each and every smartphone manufacturer in the known universe, the USITC decision is not that sweeping.

The import ban applies only to Samsung devices in the patent litigation at issue, and they're oldies such as Samsung's Captivate, Continuum, Fascinate, Galaxy S 4G, and a few other forgettables.

That said, the ruling could affect other devices that infringe on the same patented technology – but that's a fight for another day.

And don't think that Samsung or any other smartphone manufacturer can be barred from using multi-touch displays – the upholding of patent 7,479,949 only means that they can't use the same technology. There's more than one way to stroke a smartphone display.

The import ban can still be overturned by the Obama administration, which has veto power. Samsung might have hope for such an outcome due to the fact a Presidential pardon was granted to Apple just a few days ago, reversing a USITC decision that would have banned the importation of the iPhone 4 and iPad 2 into the US.

But that hope would likely be misguided. The patents in question in that case were considered to be "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" (FRAND) "standards-essential patents" (SEPs), which the Obama administration has argued (PDF) deserve special consideration.

The Apple patents involved in today's ruling are, well, simply patents, arguably with no FRAND-SEP implications, so an Obama veto is unlikely. Aside from that, there's the simple fact that Apple is an American company and Samsung is a Korean competitor – but who are we to imply that there might be a domestic political consideration in an Obama-administration decision, hmm?

In addition to ruling that Samsung did, infact, infringe on patents 7,479,949 and 7,912,501, the USITC determined that there was no infringement of patent 7,789,697 – "Plug detection mechanisms" – nor with design patents D618,678 and D558,757, or reissue patent RE41,922, "Method and apparatus for providing translucent images on a computer display".

Of interest among these non-infringed four patents are the two design patents, both simply entitled "Electronic device", and both equally simply describing the standard, familiar, used-by-world+dog, flat rectangle with rounded corners that is the shape of the vast majority of today's smartphones.

Apple's original "Battle of Rounded Corners" against Samsung involved the shape of app icons, but if the USITC had ruled in Apple's favor on D618,678 and D558,757, the importance of that app-icon battle might have paled to insignificance had Cupertino been allowed to assert a design patent on flat rectangles with, yes, rounded corners.

The Reg congratulates the USITC on its clearheaded decision on that pair of design patents. ®

Bootnote

Having burnt through far too many brain cells in recent years when slogging through court and commission documents during the seemingly interminable Apple-Samsung patent wars, your humble Reg reporter almost wept with relief when he read one beautiful sentence in Friday's USITC ruling: "The Commission's determination is final, and the investigation is terminated."

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