A patent that figured prominently in Apple’s $1.05 billion legal victory against Samsung was just tossed out by the US Patent and Trademark Office. Is it time for a retrial or at least a reassessment of that hefty fine?
Earlier this week, I wrote that a federal judge had rejected Apple’s request for a sales ban of Samsung mobile devices after a jury had previously ruled that Samsung had infringed on six Apple patents. But this week’s Patent Office decision is an even bigger victory.
The US Patent and Trademark Office rejected all of the Apple claims in its application for patent number 7,844,915, noting that it failed the crucial test of “prior art patent and printed publication cited.” In other words, Apple had patented a technology that others had used and patented before Apple claimed to have invented it.
While this patent was only one of six that Samsung was found to have infringed in its epic legal battle with Apple, this particular one—which is often referred to as the “pinch to zoom” patent despite being a bit more limited than that—is considered the cornerstone of Apple’s complaint. So Samsung is now demanding a new trial.
It’s also notable that this is the second Apple patent related to the Samsung case that has been challenged and quickly found to be woefully lacking: In October, a patent related to the bounce effect that occurs when a user scrolls to the bottom of a list on a touchscreen device was also found to have prior art. That is, Apple in that case also patented a technology that had been used and patented by others previously.
While it’s reasonable to believe that two such transgressions are a coincidence, should further examinations of Apple’s patents reveal similar issues, then a pattern of abuse emerges. And perhaps Samsung—which argued all along that Apple’s patented technologies were widely used—does deserve a retrial. Regardless, a review of the hefty fine against the company is certainly in order.
Apple is already challenging the Patent Office decision against the “bounce” patent and will likely do so for “pinch to zoom” as well. But with two of the six claims against Samsung crumbling so quickly in the face of such scrutiny, perhaps Samsung should hold off on writing that $1.05 billion check to Apple just yet.