Patent abuse: Apple prevails against Samsung yet again

Yet another court has found Samsung guilty of patent infringement against Apple [AAPL], this time over its use of "bounce-back" technology for scrolling on older devices from the Korean firm.

Apple beats Samsung in Tokyo

Guilty pleasures

The Tokyo District Court issued its partial verdict early this morning, but hasn't yet announced a figure for damages, saying only that further examination will be required to determine just how much cash Samsung must pay to settle the violation. The final ruling is expected later on.

The court found that Samsung infringed the feature, which triggers a bounce-back animation when you scroll through to the end of a digital document. Interestingly, while this feature existed in earlier versions of Samsung's Galaxy range, it was removed from current models.

The finding is yet another example of the inconsistency with which patent law is applied within different jurisdictions globally. The USPTO declared the bounce back patent invalid in April, though it has approved some of the claims embodied within the patent.

Those claims helped Apple win its key US case against Samsung last year, when it argued its former special friend had "slavishly copied" the iPhone device in its Galaxy objects.

Ordinarily you'd think that was enough, however it seems to have become fashionable to condemn the ruling within comments across reports worldwide. Could this be another strand to the competition between the firms? Are these reactions orchestrated? We don't know.

To-and-fro

Apple hasn't won every case taken against Samsung in the Tokyo court -- an August ruling saw it lose a case in which it claimed Samsung's products infringed on its invention for syncing music and video with servers.

The litigation between the firms seems unlikely to cease. It is interesting to reflect that a case either party wins in one country isn't necessarily reflected in findings across the world.  Take the contentious UK judgment, for example.

There are at present no universal law as regards patent infringements. An infringement in Japan is not necessarily regarded as infringement in the US, and vice versa.

That's why Samsung continues to risk regulatory interference as it attempts to exploit FRAND-related patents in its cases against Apple, though these attempts are now attracting negative attention from EU antitrust chiefs.

Litigation is only one of Apple's weapons against its "slavish copyist" foe. The company has also been looking to undermine Samsung's business plan by broadening the addressable market for iDevices. The iPhone mini/nano is expected to debut at some point this year and this release will inevitably take a chunk from the mid-range market. That's a segment currently dominated by Samsung through a series of deep subsidy deals in territories worldwide.

Commodification

Litigation isn't sexy, of course. It is arguable that the continued to-and-fro between the firms is having a chilling effect on invention across the industry. Other players also face the problem that in the main they are currently losing money as they attempt to create marketshare -- a false investment as most phones only hold a life span of two years before an upgrade.

The increased commodification across the sector means most phones look similar and the UI for most devices is more or less the same.

This is why Apple is investing huge energies in revamping its operating system while it prepares to introduce new devices. That company is hoping that its attempt to deliver even tighter integration between those devices and the software they run will provide the unique selling point others cannot easily match. That "whole widget" approach could become a primary advantage as smartphones become ubiquitous.

However, through a series of court judgments Apple seems to be more or less prevailing in its argument that Samsung's original Galaxy devices were imitative, not innovative. It will be interesting to see if Apple uses that argument as part of its marketing blitz for new iPhones later this year, when it seems likely the company will also point to the fragmentation and lack of engagement that plagues the Android OS.

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