Friday, January 20, 2012

Mannheim court rejects the first one of Samsung's German lawsuits against Apple

Judge Andreas Voss of the Mannheim Regional Court just pronounced his ruling on the first one of Samsung's seven patent infringement claims against Apple in Germany. Samsung's complaint over a patent declared essential to the 3G/UMTS wireless telecommunications standard was rejected. Samsung has four other lawsuits going against Apple in Germany, involving six more patents. Apple is suing Samsung over six patents (also in Mannheim), with a hearing on one of Apple's lawsuits to take place today (at noon by local time).

The pronouncement did not include the reasoning. While a number of legal grounds are theoretically possible, doubts about the validity of the asserted patent would have resulted in a stay, not a rejection, due to Germany's bifurcated system under which validity issues are addressed in different fora than infringement lawsuits. There are two reasonably likely possibilities: either Apple's products weren't deemed to infringe on the patent in a technical sense or the court believes Samsung's rights are exhausted and Apple has, by extension, a license. If the reason for the rejection was technical non-infringement, Samsung's other assertions of 3G/UMTS patents in Germany could still succeed. However, if the reason was patent exhaustion, all but one of the four remaining Samsung lawsuits in Germany (one over two patents unrelated to 3G, including a smiley input patent) would likely be thrown out as well. While a finding of patent exhaustion can depend on technical details that vary from patent to patent, and from product to product, I haven't seen any indication that the related functionality is implemented by Apple itself as opposed to the baseband chips Apple incorporates into its products.

Given the Mannheim Regional Court's stance on standards-essential patents, it would be a major surprise if the ruling turned out to be based on FRAND issues.

I hope to be able to obtain some information on the specifics of the ruling, or ideally, a copy of the decision.

Without access to more information, I can't guarantee (though I strongly believe) that today's ruling related to EP1005726 on a "turbo encoding/decoding device and method for processing frame data according to QoS". That one was the first of two patents discussed at a mid-November hearing I watched, and based on my notes, today's ruling was going to adjudicate Samsung's claims concerning that patent. Otherwise this would be about EP1114528 on an "apparatus and method for controlling a demultiplexer and a multiplexer used for rate matching in a mobile communication system". Both patents were declared essential to 3G/UMTS. The patent claim that wasn't adjudicated today will come to judgment in a week from today.

The Mannheim Regional Court's rulings can be appealed to the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court and, potentially, on to the Federal Court of Justice (which is also based in Karlsruhe).

So far, Apple's and Samsung's claims against each other have had a very high drop-out rate in multiple jurisdictions. That, however, does not appear to dissuade both parties from pursuing their claims. There's too much at stake, and as long as neither party has leverage, there's no pressure to settle. Apple and Samsung are currently the most profitable wireless device makers in the world. Neither legal fees nor the distraction that these lawsuits create pose a serious problem to their business.

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