Samsung Electronics Co. infringes four Apple Inc. patents, including one for the design of the iPhone and one for touch-screen technology co-invented by Steve Jobs, a U.S. trade judge said in a decision that gives Apple another legal victory over its biggest smartphone competitor.
Two other patents, including one for the exterior shape of the iPhone, weren't infringed, U.S. International Trade Commission Judge Thomas Pender said in a notice on the agency's website.
The case is one of more than three dozen between the makers of about half of the world's smartphones that have run up hundreds of millions of dollars in legal bills. Samsung, which lost a $1 billion jury verdict in August against Apple, is challenging a different ITC judge's findings that its own patents weren't infringed by Apple. The Korean company has had more success in other countries, including a victory earlier today in the Hague.
"People see what's happening in the other countries, but here in the U.S., every time they go up against Apple, they lose," said Will Stofega, a program manager at Framingham, Mass.-based researcher IDC. "Samsung will continue to fight. In the long run, this cult of Apple may not be a good thing to have."
The judge's findings are subject to review by the full commission, which has the power to stop goods that infringe U.S. patents at the border. The commission is scheduled to complete the investigation by Feb. 25. If it orders a halt on imports, the action would be reviewed by the U.S. president, who can overturn the ban on public-policy grounds.
Apple's iPhone is the top-selling smartphone in the U.S., with 34 percent of the American market in August, almost double Samsung's 18 percent, according to market researcher Comscore. Samsung is the world leader with more than a quarter of global mobile phones sales, to Apple's 17 percent.
At stake is a market that Bloomberg Industries said grew 62 percent last year to $219 billion. More than 1 billion people, or about one in seven people worldwide, had a smartphone in the third quarter, according to an Oct. 17 report by researcher Strategy Analytics. While it took 16 years to reach that milestone, the research group estimates that another billion people will have smartphones within the next three years.
Among tablet computers, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple had about 70 percent of the market in the second quarter, compared with 9.2 percent for Samsung and 4.2 percent for Amazon.com Inc., according to IHS ISuppli.
Two of the patents in the case relate to the design of the iPhone, and name Apple's design chief, Jonathan Ive, among the inventors. One is for the shape of the phone, while the other is for the flat front face with wider borders at the top and bottom and a lozenge-shaped speaker slot above the display screen. Pender said the front face patent was infringed, while one for the overall shape wasn't.
A feature patent for a multitouch screen lists Jobs, Apple's late co-founder, and Apple's iOS software chief, Scott Forstall, among the inventors. That patent also was involved in the Apple case against Google's Motorola Mobility, which was thrown out by the trial court and is on appeal, and one against HTC Corp., which is on hold pending the outcome of a related case at the trade agency.
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is taking a second look at that patent to confirm whether it covers a new invention. In a July 13 filing with the ITC, Samsung said it didn't request the review.
A fourth patent covers the translucent images for applications displayed on a screen, and two others relate to ways the device detects when headphone jacks are plugged in. Only one of the headset jack patents is infringed, the judge said.
Samsung has submitted documents to Pender about a way to change its designs to address the patent dispute, though the papers are confidential so it isn't known what changes to its phones are involved. Apple is seeking to block U.S. imports of more than a dozen models of Samsung phones and tablets, including Galaxy Tab, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy SII, and Galaxy Note.
Samsung has had better success outside the U.S. in its legal clash with Apple. In addition to the ruling from the Hague, a Tokyo judge in August ruled that Samsung didn't infringe Apple's Japanese patent for synchronizing music and video data. Apple was ordered to post apologies on its U.K. website for claiming that Samsung's Galaxy tablet computers copied a design for the iPad when a London court found they hadn't. A South Korean court in August said both companies had violated each other's patents on some phones and tablet computers.
Samsung, based in Suwon, South Korea, also got a boost when a U.S. appeals court on Oct. 11 overturned an order that would have prevented Samsung from selling the Galaxy Nexus phone in the U.S. while another Apple patent case is pending. The court said that such orders could be imposed only if the patented invention is something that drives sales, not a single feature of a multicomponent device.