Samsung Smackdown: Judge Rules Company Infringed on Apple's Autocomplete Patent

Samsung suffered yet another legal setback in its ongoing patent infringement fight against Apple Tuesday evening when Judge Lucy Koh issued a summary ruling saying the electronics maker is infringing on the iPhone and iPad's typing autocomplete feature. Judge Koh gave Samsung another blow when she ruled its multimedia sync patent was invalid, too, essentially killing one of the company's legal weapons ahead of this March's new patent infringement trial between the two tech giants.

Judge Koh ruled Samsung is clearly infringing on Apple's autocomplete patent ahead of trialJudge Koh ruled Samsung is clearly infringing on Apple's autocomplete patent ahead of trial

Apple's autocomplete feature lets users see suggested completions for words as they're typing. The feature can save time and screen taps, and assuming it guesses the right words, can improve typing accuracy. It's a key feature not only on the iPhone, but also on Android-based smartphones from Samsung and other device makers.

Based on Judge Koh's assessment, Samsung's infringement on Apple's autocomplete patent was so clear that there wasn't a need to argue the point during the upcoming trial. As of now, Samsung's best hope is to convince the court that Apple's patent isn't valid.

Samsung's second setback came with Judge Koh's ruling that its multimedia sync patent isn't valid, taking away one of the company's arguments supporting its claim that Apple's mobile devices infringe on its patent portfolio.

Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents said the combined ruling "increases, not hugely but significantly, the likelihood of Apple emerging victorious in a multi-patent trial scheduled to begin on March 31, 2014."

The ruling also leaves Apple with all five of its patent infringement claims still in the case, while Samsung now only has four.

Samsung has a strong losing track record in its patent infringement fight with Apple, and it looks like the company is on the path to yet another loss. The company suffered a serious legal blow when a Federal Jury ruled in 2012 that it infringed on a long list of Apple's patents and awarded the company over US$1 billion in damages. At the same time, the Jury ruled that Apple wasn't infringing on any of Samsung's patents.

Part of the damages in that trial were set aside because they had been improperly calculated. A damages retrial reinstated part of that amount, leaving Samsung owing Apple over $900 million.

With the two companies ready to square off for a second patent infringement trial all of this has to look familiar to Samsung. Ahead of the first trial, Judge Koh issued a similar summary ruling, setting the stage for what became a massive loss for the company. This March, Samsung will go into the new trial with yesterday's summary judgement hanging over its head as well as its 2012 loss still fresh in everyone's mind.

The ruling will likely have an impact on Samsung's negotiating position with Apple on a possible settlement, too. The CEOs from both companies have agreed to meet for settlement negotiations, although there isn't any guarantee they'll successfully reach a deal.

Mr. Mueller thinks Samsung is at a disadvantage saying,

In order to have signficant leverage, Samsung would need to bring more to the table than a few findings of infringement of standard-essential patents encumbered by FRAND licensing obligations. Samsung has not prevailed on a single non-SEP claim against Apple after almost three years of Earth-spinning litigation, and the latest summary judgment ruling again calls into the question the merits of Samsung's allegations that Apple, too, infringed.

Apple has said that any settlement deal with Samsung will have to include a no cloning provision, meaning Samsung will be prohibited from copying its product designs. That provision would also keep the door open for Apple to file future infringement lawsuits against the company -- something Samsung would prefer to avoid.

With its big loss in 2012, its ongoing string of failures at showing Apple as a patent infringer, and now Tuesday's summary ruling, Samsung is facing a hard uphill battle come March. Winning isn't a sure thing for Apple, but the odds are definitely in its favor. For Samsung, this is already starting to look like a repeat of its 2012 loss.