Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Samsung finally wins its first offensive case against Apple -- but it's only a consolation prize

Earlier today, Dutch IDG website Webwereld reported on a court ruling in The Hague that finds Apple liable for infringement of one of four patents Samsung is asserting in that action. Meanwhile the story has been picked up by other media as well.

There's some symbolic significance in the fact that after more than a year of litigation, Samsung has finally won a ruling in an offensive case (meaning a case in which Samsung was asserting one of its own patents). The Rechtbank 's-Gravenhage (The Hague) found Apple liable for infringing, only with pre-iPhone-4S devices, EP1188269 on an "apparatus for encoding a transport format combination indicator for a communication system" (but cleared Apple of infringement of three other 3G/UMTS-essential Samsung patents). All patent assertions by Samsung against Apple that previously came to judgment were dismissed. Samsung failed to win preliminary injunctions against the iPhone 4S in France and Italy, and lost three cases in Germany, including one over the same patent that the Dutch court now held infringed.

Samsung has approximately 100,000 patents worldwide. At some point it had to win something. But it's important to put this into perspective. Looking at the wider dispute with more than 50 complaints filed in ten countries on four continents, the impact of today's ruling is minimal (and the word "minimal" is more likely to be an exaggeration than an understatement). It's not even clear that Samsung will make enough money as a result of this infringement finding to offset the 800,000 euros it now owes Apple in legal fees because it lost with respect to three of its four patents.

Samsung already lost the key battle in the Netherlands over all four of those patents a few months ago when the court affirmed its previous position that Samsung was not entitled to injunctive relief. What Samsung really wanted to get is leverage over Apple to force a worldwide settlement. Tiny amounts of money won't get Apple to settle. Samsung was trying hard to win an injunction, but failed. From a strategic point of view, it had already lost 99.9% of these cases even before today's liability ruling came down. This really is nothing more than symbolic.

Today's liability finding means that the parties now have to make their argument as to what a FRAND royalty rate (including damages for past infringement) should be

As I already said on Twitter, there's no question that Apple is ready, willing and able to pay a FRAND royalty rate. It just didn't want Samsung to win an injunction, or pay an excessive rate. Court documents say that Apple asked Samsung half a dozen times (!) to quote a FRAND rate before the 2.4% demand, which the court considered outrageous, was made.

Considering the parameters and circumstances I just described, Samsung will be lucky to even recover its attorneys' fees with this. The dispute will continue. Apple is getting closer to a U.S. injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1, which will require Samsung to redesign the product (as it did in Germany), and yesterday a U.S. district court denied a Samsung motion to present workarounds for three Apple patents at an upcoming California trial.

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