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Apple Breaks Legal Serve in Samsung's Home Court

Apple Breaks Legal Serve in Samsung's Home Court

Apple will still be able to sell its older iPhone and iPad models in South Korea after a court ruled they did not infringe three Samsung patents. The loss may be especially bitter for Samsung, which no doubt expected its home country to lean more in its direction. It touted its last win against Apple there "as proof that American juries are biased," said law professor A. Christal Sheppard.

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
12/13/13 5:00 AM PT

A South Korean court on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit claiming Apple violated three Samsung short-messaging patents.

The Seoul Central District Court found that two of the patents allegedly violated were not unique leading-edge technology exclusive to Samsung, and that nothing in the third patent applied to technologies used by both companies.

Samsung's patents cover the display of text messages and the grouping of messages on a phone.

Samsung was seeking US$95,100 in damages from Apple, as well as a ban on the sale in South Korea of the iPhone 4, 4S and 5, as well as the iPad 2.

Sales of a number of Samsung mobile devices have been banned in the United States by the International Trade Commission because they infringe Apple patents. A similar ban by the ITC on some Apple products was vetoed by the Obama administration.

Samsung Disappointed

"We are disappointed by the court's decision," Samsung said. "As Apple has continued to infringe our patented mobile technologies, we will continue to take the measures necessary to protect our intellectual property rights."

Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.

South Korea's courts don't have a reputation for protecting intellectual property, noted Michael Lasky, a patent attorney with the Altera Law Group.

"It is well known that South Korea is a country where it is very hard to get meaningful patent protection," Lasky told MacNewsWorld.

"That goes back to a time when South Korean companies benefited by weak patent laws so that copying was easy to do," he said. "Of course, now the tables have turned, and South Korean companies have a lot to protect, but the system has not yet come around."

Small Damages, Big End Game

This is the second time Samsung and Apple have tussled in the South Korean courts. In 2012, Apple was on the losing end of things and was ordered to pay $38,000 to Samsung for violating some of its wireless patents.

Thursday's decision "is a blow to Samsung who touted the last win in South Korea against Apple as proof that American juries are biased," said A. Christal Sheppard, an assistant professor of law at the University of Nebraska College of Law and a former chief patent and trademark counsel for Congress.

"This verdict runs counter to that assertion," she told MacNewsWorld.

Compared to the mammoth award Apple won from Samsung in the United States -- $930 million -- the damage amounts in the South Korean cases are very small, but the stakes are not.

"The win for Samsung would have been an injunction to prevent the infringing Apple devices from being sold in South Korea," Sheppard observed. "Damages are nice, but stopping the availability of competitors' products -- in this case, Apple's -- is a better end game."

Never Give an Inch

In addition, the South Korean cases may be part of a larger strategy.

"Many times, when corporations have these battles around the world, they're trying to gain leverage in negotiations for a global license," David Newman, an attorney with Arnstein & Lehr, told MacNewsWorld.

Both Samsung and Apple have two kinds of patents: standard essential patents and non-standard essential patents. Samsung has many standard essential patents -- patents accepted by international standards organizations. Apple, on the other hand, has mostly non-standard essential patents, which are proprietary.

Samsung has asserted violations of both its standard essential and non-standard essential patents in its lawsuits against Apple.

"If and when there's ever a discussion of a global settlement, it would be for both types of patents, which would let them get most of Apple's patents in some type of cross-license," Newman explained.

That kind of agreement doesn't seem likely, however.

"Neither of these companies wants to give an inch because the cumulative effect of these cases is to make it as difficult on each other as possible," Mark McKenna, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, told MacNewsWorld.

"Why they can't come to a settlement is hard to answer," McKenna said. "Sometimes parties don't behave rationally in litigation."

While Samsung didn't win its case in South Korea this week, Apple didn't win anything either, maintained Florian Mueller, an intellectual property analyst.

"Today's decision is not a win for Apple, but merely a non-win for Samsung," he told MacNewsWorld. "Apple and Samsung both hold vast patent portfolios and will always find new patents to assert against each other."


John Mello is a freelance technology writer and former special correspondent for Government Security News.


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