Patent Office Invalidates iPhone Design Used in Samsung Case

Apple Inc. Spring Forward
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Apple Inc. sign displayed at the Yerba Buena Center before the start of the the company's Spring Forward event on March 9, 2015 in San Francisco, California.

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office earlier this month invalidated an Apple design patent for the original iPhone, giving Samsung a lift in their final appeal to overturn a costly judgement against them. The non-final ruling is regarding a patent known as “D’677,” which covers the design of the rounded-corner iPhone, launched in 2007.

According to FOSS Patents, a blog that focuses on patent news, the USPTO decided that the D’677 patent is “‘not entitled to benefit of the filing date’ of two previous Apple design patent applications because the design at issue was not disclosed” in earlier applications. “As a result, certain prior art is eligible now, and against the background of that additional prior art, the USPTO believes the patent shouldn't have been granted.”

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As the report notes, the same patent has already been rejected twice for obviousness to patents by LG and Sharp, once for obviousness compared to another Apple patent, and a fourth was rejected based another Apple design.

The decision could be significant in the Apple v. Samsung saga because in several cases the Korean tech giant was found to have infringed upon D’677 in the design of several smartphones phones, including the popular Galaxy S line and the Epic 4G Touch.

The battle between the tech giants over patents culminated in 2012 when a court ordered Samsung to pay Apple $930 million for infringing on a small number of iPhone-related design and utility patents. That amount was later reduced to $382 million, but the court upheld an order for Samsung to pay the "total profit" of the value of sold phones, and not just the value of the patents. The number that Samsung is now trying to whittle down in court is $548 million.

The patent news arrives days after Samsung unveiled two new Android smartphones with jumbo screens as it tries to make up lost ground to Apple. Samsung said the new Galaxy Note 5 and S6 Edge Plus will start shipping Aug. 21 in the U.S. and Canada. Usually, Note phones don't come out until well after Apple's new iPhone models in September. Samsung also teased an upcoming smartwatch, the Gear S2, at the event, held in New York.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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