Monday, March 12, 2012

Apple streamlines ITC case against Samsung, drops one entire patent and 15 claims of two other patents

Last week I reported on Apple's claim construction victory over Samsung at the ITC. Apple had originally asserted five patents. Claim construction is only an intermediate step of U.S. patent litigation (including ITC investigations), but it is an important one, and Samsung persuaded the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in charge of this investigation only with respect to one patent, while Apple prevailed on two patents and faced no controversy with respect to two other patents.

I venture to guess that Apple was just waiting for the claim construction order so it could make an informed decision on how best to streamline this investigation. At the ITC, complainants are expected to drop entire patents as well as some of the claims from a patent they continue to assert. ITC investigations have strict and short timelines. It's in the parties' best interest to narrow their cases during the course of the investigation, and that's what Apple has just done in the Samsung case.

Apple has dropped U.S. Patent No. 7,863,533 on a "cantilevered push button having multiple contacts and fulcrums". This is the only patent on which Samsung won the claim construction battle. It makes a lot of sense for Apple to drop it. Based on the claim construction order, this patent would have been a long shot, and Apple may be more successful pursuing it in federal court (where it may persuade a judge of a more favorable interpretation).

Apple has furthermore dropped claims 1-3, 11, 12, 15, 16, and 21-27 of U.S. Patent No. 7,789,697 on "plug detection mechanisms ", and claim 3 of U.S. Patent No. 7,479,949, commonly referred to as the "touchscreen heuristics patent" (co-invented by Steve Jobs). Claim 3 of the touchscreen heuristics patent relates to the determination of which user interface object is selected when two user interface objects have overlapping hit regions.

Concerning the withdrawals of claims from the '697 and '949 patents, I don't see any reason that is specific to claim construction. I believe Apple just has more information now on Samsung's non-infringement arguments and may have felt that it would be too difficult to make an infringement case based on those claims. Other claims from those patents are still in the game.

In total, Apple is still asserting four (out of the original five) patents against Samsung, but it has streamlined the case significantly and we may see some more streamlining before, during or after the evidentiary hearing in this investigation, which will will commence on May 31 and conclude on June 6, 2012.

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