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article imageApple could lose $500m as patent in Samsung lawsuit ruled invalid

By James Walker     Aug 18, 2015 in Technology
The United States Patent & Trademark Office has ruled that a patent held by Apple on the design of the iPhone 3GS is actually invalid. The decision will prove critical in the company's lawsuit against Samsung, alleged to have infringed on Apple's patents.
The patent's legality could be the deciding factor in as much as $500 million in compensation from Samsung. Patent D618677 (D'677), essentially representing the entire front assembly of the iPhone 3GS, kicked off the dispute.
Samsung was found to have infringed on it with its own smartphone designs, starting a series of court hearings that have dragged on for years. It now seems it may all have been for nothing though as today D'677 was found to be invalid after close examining of technicalities.
The patent has a priority date of January 5 2007 but was not actually submitted until November 2008. It relies on two prior patents which Apple claims are sufficiently descriptive of the contents of D'677 in order to keep the effective date of January 5th 2007 — when the two prior patents were registered.
Now, the Patent Office has determined that the original patents do not adequately describe the later one for the iPhone 3GS design. This means it cannot retain its effective date of January 5, 2007 and instead applies only from November 2008. The request for examination was made by an anonymous party, likely to be Samsung.
In those nearly two years between the original patents and D'677, numerous other phone manufacturers created designs similar to that of the iPhone 3GS. The entire patent is effectively useless as under current circumstances it would never have been awarded at all.
The legal conditions surrounding the patent are complicated but in effect Apple has lost two years of "backward" enforcement, from November 2008 to January 2007. The patent now only stands from its filing date in November 2008 which is critical in the lawsuit against Samsung.
It means that part of the bedrock of Apple's claim that Samsung infringed on its patents has shattered because the patent in question no longer applies. The company had been seeking $1 billion in damages from Samsung. That was reduced to around $547 million a few months ago at an appeal and is now set to be substantially cut further if Apple cannot find a way to argue that the patent is still valid.
A third trial is scheduled for later this year. It was originally intended to set the exact amount of the damages that Samsung should pay but it now seems certain that the Korean manufacturer will be bringing up the invalid patent on which the entire case hinges. Apple looks set to lose a vast swathe of the money it was expecting while Samsung appears not to have infringed on this patent after all.
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