One of Apple’s key iPhone design patents is no longer protected

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iPhone design
Did iPhones change the way Samsung handsets looked? Yes. Case closed. Oh wait, there are lawyers involved...
Photo: Apple/USPTO

One of Apple’s key iPhone patents has been given a non-final rejection in the still-dragging-on Apple vs. Samsung lawsuit.

The reason? According to a new report, it should never have been granted in the first place, due to an issue with prior art and apparent “obviousness.”

Among all the dense patent-ese is the fact that Apple is therefore “not entitled to benefit of the filing date” of its original design patent 618,677.

This isn’t a final verdict (what about this case is final?), but it certainly doesn’t sound good for Apple. As FOSS Patents explains:

“While technically non-final, the odds are long against Apple getting this patent, shortly referred to as ‘D’677’ in the Samsung litigation, upheld. I’m so very skeptical because the USPTO has taken a long time since the filing of the reexamination requests to issue this Office action and, which is far more meaningful, it has determined that this design patent’s single claim ‘stands twice rejected under 35 U.S.C. 103(a) [obviousness], rejected under 35 U.S.C. 103(a)/102(e) [obviousness in connection with a published patent application], and rejected under 35 U.S.C. 102(e).'”

Apple has already had the original $1 billion damages settlement it was awarded against Samsung whittled down to $584 million. Recently, Samsung was denied an appeal regarding $400 million of this remaining sum, and it is now likely to wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court since neither side wants to let go.

We don’t yet know how this latest decision will affect the ruling given there, but what I do know is that this whole headache-inducing issue does make you wonder exactly what the U.S. Patents and Trademark Office is actually for. If a company like Samsung with sufficiently deep pockets can keep battling until USPTO eventually decides that maybe its patents should never have been awarded in the first place, what’s the point?

At any rate, it seems like Samsung’s lawyers have been reading their fair share of George Orwell: “The war is not meant to be won. It is meant to be continuous.”

Hey, at least Apple is winning where it counts!