Court Sanctions Samsung, Can’t Design-Around Apple Patents

Samsung has been sanctioned by a U.S. court in the American edition of its protracted legal battle with Apple for failing to provide the iPhone maker with its products’ source code as ordered by the court. The sanction, handed down late Friday by Judge Paul S. Grewal, significantly impairs the company’s ability to defend itself against patent infringement claims brought by Apple.

Apple vs Samsung

The actions leading up to Friday’s sanction began in December 2011, when the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered Samsung to produce the source code for nine allegedly infringing functionalities of its Android-based mobile platform.

Samsung only partially complied with the court’s order; it delivered the source code from just a single product for each disputed feature, arguing that the code did not materially differ between its products and that the court’s order did not “mandate the production of every version of every accused product and functionality.”

Apple, arguing that Samsung had failed to comply with both the letter and the intent of the judicial order, moved for the court to bar Samsung’s reliance on any code related to any product it failed to produce.

Samsung has been working hard during the year-long legal battle to discover and implement workarounds, a.k.a. “design-arounds,” to functionality that may fall under Apple’s patent claims. At the time of Apple’s motion to sanction Samsung, FOSS Patent’s Florian Mueller suggested that Samsung’s delaying tactics were used to prevent a preliminary ruling against Samsung’s “design-around” implementations, something that would doom the company’s defensive legal efforts.

“If Samsung provided such source code, Apple can try to bring infringement allegations against those design-arounds. The key question here is whether those design-arounds truly steer clear of patent infringement, or whether they merely constitute a somewhat (possibly just slightly) different infringement pattern,” Mr. Mueller wrote.

Now, with Friday’s sanction by Judge Grewal, reproduced below, Samsung will not be able to introduce or rely upon any “design-around” evidence in relation to three key patents: No. 7,469,381 “overscroll bounce,” No. 7,863,891 “timed window,” and No. 7,864,163 “tap to zoom and navigate.”

The company will be forced to acknowledge that the initial code it provided, code that did not take advantage of the recent design-around efforts and that likely infringes on Apple patents, is representative of all current code for the disputed functionalities in relation to the remainder of the litigation.

In accordance with the foregoing, the court grants Apple’s Motion for Sanctions, and finds that Samsung’s failure to adequately produce source code to Apple violated the court’s December 22 Order. Samsung shall be precluded from offering any evidence of its design-around efforts for the ’381, ’891, and ’163 patents, and shall not argue that the design-arounds are in any way distinct from those versions of code produced in accordance with the court’s order. Samsung must instead rely solely on the versions of code that were produced on or before December 31, 2011.

The court’s sanction goes beyond Samsung’s current trial with Apple, however. As Mr. Mueller explains, Samsung will now be viewed by future courts as a “recidivist violator of discovery orders,” giving Apple an advantage if further sanctions are requested.

[Teaser graphic via Shutterstock]