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Apple harmonizes its patent defenses against Samsung

Apple harmonizes its patent defenses against Samsung

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It seems Apple puts as much value in keeping its legal defenses clean and integrated as it does its products. In a globally-escalating patent battle between Apple and Samsung where complexity is the norm, Apple is making a concerted effort to simplify things by harmonizing its defensive game plan around the world.

Apple has given us some quick peeks into its defensive strategy against Samsung's in the past, but Apple's new motion to amend its defenses in the US is really our first look at all of the details. While Apple's court filing is incredibly lengthy (spanning more than eighty pages), the crux of its argument is rather simple and can be distilled down into two core legal principles: patent exhaustion and wireless standards misconduct.

Patent exhaustion 

Apple's first defensive position is simply that Samsung is trying to double dip on licensing fees, at Apple's expense. The argument goes something like this: the wireless baseband chips in iPads and iPhones are purchased from companies like Qualcomm and Intel, which already pay Samsung patent licensing fees for those chip components. Under the legal doctrine of patent exhaustion, you only get one bite at the apple, so to speak. Samsung can only demand one payment per use of a patented technology, and Apple says it already got paid by Qualcomm and Intel. As such, Apple's arguing that Samsung's enforceable patent rights relative to those components are now exhausted — all used up. 

Wireless standards misconduct 

Apple's argument on the issue of wireless standards misconduct is really all about coloring Samsung desperate. Apple is trying to convince the courts that when Samsung finally decided to retaliate against Apple, it improperly resorted to using essential patents that were, or should have been, dedicated to all players in the wireless communications industry.

The technical details on how these industry standards (like mobile wireless standards) interact and play nice with a company's patent portfolio is complicated, but the basic principle is not. As a trade-off for getting the industry to adopt and invest in a standard wireless technology, Samsung and others agreed to license relevant chunks of their patent portfolio to all players in the industry on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. Ideally, everyone who uses the standard gives up something, gets something, and the threat of litigation is eliminated.

That means that anyone, friend or foe, must be allowed to practice the technology after paying a reasonable fee. Apple claims that even though the iPhone was released back in 2007, it didn't receive a licensing offer until after Samsung had already sued Apple. The exact terms of the offer have not been made public, but Apple classifies it as "manifestly not FRAND." 


There's no doubt that Apple's reasoning here has some common-sense appeal, but the real drive to integrate this strategy into most (if not all) of its cases against Samsung may be more about riding a winning trend than anything else. In denying Samsung's preliminary injunction motion back on October 14, a Dutch court ruled that Samsung is indeed obligated to offer Apple patent licensing under FRAND terms — which it hasn't done. Apple makes frequent reference to this win in its US court filing. Apple obviously hopes that it can extend this victory to all of its cases where Samsung has put Apple on the defensive.

Assuming the US judge permits Apple to add these defenses to its case (which is likely), it's still not clear when we might get a definitive ruling on these issues. The US court is currently considering Apple's preliminary injunction motion, so it may be some time before this particular sub-battle comes to a head in the case. 

We'll keep you updated of developments.