Apple seeks to block Samsung one more time

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Apple seeks to block Samsung one more time

Apple urged a U.S. appeals court to force Samsung Electronics to stop copying certain features of the iPhone.

A federal jury last year said Samsung was using Apple’s patented features for autocorrect, slide-to-unlock and quick links. The judge in the case refused to order Samsung to remove those features, saying there was no evidence they drove sales of smartphones so Apple should instead be compensated with money.

“Competing against your own invention in a competitor’s product is irreparable harm,” Apple lawyer William Lee of WilmerHale in Boston told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Samsung said a victory for Apple on this issue would put an undue burden on manufacturers of complex devices who would have to constantly redesign their products for trivial features.

A ban on certain features is the same as a ban on the entire product, Samsung’s lawyer, Kathleen Sullivan of Quinn Emanuel in New York, told the panel. “We don’t make features, we make products.”

This case and one other are all that’s left of a four-continent battle that’s engulfed the world’s biggest smartphone makers for the four years. In December, Samsung asked the Washington appeals court to toss out a $930 million verdict won by Apple. That appeal is still pending, as is the underlying infringement finding and $120 million damage award in this case.

Apple maintains it needs to keep competitors from copying its inventions to avoid being lost in a pool of similar devices. For the Cupertino, California-based company, the differentiation is necessary to maintain its reputation for innovation.

Sullivan said the trial judge specifically found there was no harm to Apple’s reputation.

Samsung denies infringing the patents and is challenging the underlying verdict in a case that will be argued later in the year.

Patents give their owners the exclusive right to the invention. Without the ability to block sales of rival products using the invention without paying, the patent’s value is decreased.

Lee said that a Samsung victory on this issue would preclude any patent owner from obtaining an order to stop use of its inventions.

Apple has licensed the patents to four companies, including as part of settlements with HTC and Nokia. Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore questioned why that wasn’t enough to show that Apple could be compensated with money.

“You’ve licensed to every other competitor except Samsung,” she said. “I understand you guys hate each other.”

Lee said other companies involved in manufacturing smartphones, including Google, LG Electronics and Motorola, now part of Lenovo Group, don’t have a license.

Later, after Sullivan said that Samsung had already removed or designed around the features, Moore questioned why Samsung was even fighting the order. Sullivan said that, in the past, Apple had sent threatening letters to Samsung customers.

A victory for Samsung would amount to forcing Apple to accept a compulsory license of its inventions, said Nick Rodelli, senior analyst at CFRA, a New York-based-based forensic accounting and legal research firm. That could be difficult for Apple with companies like Lenovo and Xiaomi trying to sell cheaper phones that mimic the iPhone, he said.

“Apple wants to reestablish the principle that it can call on U.S. courts to enforce - in a commercially relevant manner - patents supporting product differentiation,” Rodelli said.

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