Apple has previously used one of its iPhone design patents successfully against Samsung in court fights, but that patent was marked invalid by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office earlier this month. Such a decision from the USPTO could question Apple’s $548 million damages award against the Korean firm.

Apple iPhone Patent Marked Invalid, Samsung To Benefit

USPTO makes a technical correction

The non-final decision on Apple’s U.S. Patent No. D618,677 (or the D’677 patent) was given by USPTO’s Central Re-examination Division on Aug. 5, and it was first spotted by FOSS Patents’ Florian Mueller. The USPTO’s decision is not based on principle but is more of a technical correctness. The D’677 patent is based on two patents filed much earlier than the patent in question. But Apple claimed in its filing that since the D’677 patent is based on the two other patents that it had been previously granted, it is entitled to the same protection date as was granted to the two earlier patents.

The agency’s decisions follow an ex-parte examination request filed anonymously, possibly by Samsung, in which the validity of the design patent was questioned. There is a long time gap between ex-parte requests and the resulting office action, due to which it will be very hard for Apple to argue the validity, believes Mueller. If we look at the image taken from the USPTO’s decision, patent D’677 depicts a different design than Apple’s own prior art. Thus, it does not meet the patentability requirements code.

Could impact Apple vs. Samsung cases

Samsung was found guilty of infringement on patent D’677 in the first patent trial against Samsung for several smartphone models, including the Fascinate, the Galaxy S 4G, the Galaxy S II for AT&T, the Galaxy S II for T-Mobile, the Epic 4G Touch, the Skyrocket, the Showcase, the Infuse 4G, the Mesmerize and the Vibrant. In two of the cases involving the Galaxy S2 Skyrocket and Galaxy S2 Epic 4G, the decision from the jury was solely based on patent D’677.

The decision on this Apple versus Samsung case was given by the jury three years ago, but the exhaustive appeals by both parties continue to drag the case out. The initial ruling of $1.05 billion in damages to be paid by Samsung was reduced to about $548 million through a partial retrial and a successful Federal Circuit appeal. But the Korean firm’s appeal for an en banc rehearing to get the damages further reduced by $399 million was recently denied. However, the Korean firm can still go to the U.S. Supreme Court.