USPTO Kills Apple Pinch-to-zoom Patent... Sort Of

The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued a final rejection of Apple's pinch-to-zoom patent, which could throw a big wrench in the company's patent infringement fight with Samsung. The patent in question was included in the big win a jury handed Apple last year against Samsung, although "final" doesn't always mean just that when dealing with the USPTO, so there's still a chance the pinch-to-zoom patent might be saved.

USTPO Shooting down Apple's pinch-to-zoom patent is a headache, not the end of the lineShooting down Apple's pinch-to-zoom patent is a headache, not the end of the line

Apple is calling the patent key in its litigation, so it's a safe bet to say that the company will work to get the USPTO ruling reversed. Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents stated,

Based on Apple's damages claims, the pinch-to-zoom API patent is the most valuable multitouch software patent at issue in the first Apple v. Samsung litigation in the Northern District of California, but most of the damages in that case relate to design patents. Also, I believe that the patents at issue in the second Apple v. Samsung case in San Jose, scheduled to go to trial next spring, are, on average, considerably more valuable than the ones asserted in the first case.

Regardless of just how critical the patent is to Apple's current fight with Samsung, it certainly holds value for the company since pinch-to-zoom is a popular feature not only on the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, but also on the Mac.

Even with the USPTO ruling, Samsung doesn't have much of a chance of convincing Judge Lucy Koh to stay a follow up trial to redetermine part of the damages in last August's ruling. Since the Pinch-to-zoom patent does come into play in the trial, Samsung was hoping the USPTO ruling could be used to convince Judge KOh to stop the new trial before it happens this November.

That won't happen, according to Mr. Mueller, because the USPTO ruling didn't meet the criteria set forth by Judge Koh. As such, the November damages retrial will move forward and Samsung doesn't seem to be able to stop that from happening now.

Apple and Samsung have been fighting in courts around the world over mutual patent infringement claims related to smartphones and tablets. Neither company seems willing to back down, and they even have another infringement trial scheduled to start in U.S. Federal Court next March.

Apple has two months to put together its arguments showing why the patent should still be considered valid.