Bushels of Legal Issues for Apple: An Update on How the Tech Giant is Fairing in IP Law Around the World

Bushels of Legal Issues for Apple: An Update on How the Tech Giant is Fairing in IP Law Around the World

Lately, it seems as if every IP law and tech blog one reads has something new to report on one of the countless lawsuits Apple is engaged in around the world. This week was no exception – the biggest splash that Apple made in the news circuit this time around was that Apple had come to an agreeable settlement with HTC on all patent disputes world-wide.

This settlement means that all current patent litigation cases are now dismissed, with a 10-year licensing agreement for all current and future patents held by the two companies to be implemented in its place. Along with Samsung and Google, HTC has been one of the most heftily targeted companies in Apple’s assertions of patent infringement over the past few years.

The agreement is confidential, but it comes as no surprise that Samsung had formally requested in federal court to see a copy of the licence agreement between Apple and HTC. As soon as the settlement was publicized, Samsung’s President of IT and Mobile was quoted to say that his company has no intentions to negotiate with Apple and settle out of court. As of November 21, Samsung's motion to compel was granted by Judge Paul S. Grewal, meaning that Apple and HTC must immediately provide a fully unredacted version of the agreement for the exclusive viewing pleasures of Samsung's lawyers as part of the judgment's Attorney-Eyes-Only designation. Currently, the redacted text is neatly comprised of the 33 key words that reveal the financial arrangements of the licencing deal with HTC.

Given that the basis of Apple’s claims against the South Korean electronics powerhouse is premised on the fact that Apple must show that irreparable damage was experienced and cannot be adequately compensated by monetary means, the specific licences granted between Apple and HTC is surely of interest to Samsung. After all, it is conceivable that at least some of the licences agreed upon between the two companies are the same ones in question in the patent lawsuits currently being fought between Apple and Samsung. In its second major case against Samsung (not to be confused with the earlier decision of Apple Inc. v Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. et al, which the IPilogue covered here, and now looks like may be thrown out for jury misconduct), Apple seemed to suggest that there are certain patents it would never licence, therefore a full-out ban ordered by the court would be necessary to protect is intellectual property for irreparable damage. If Samsung can show that Apple is more than happy to take financial compensation for a contested patent in lieu of an injunction on selling a product, then Apple may have to eat its own words.

Even though both HTC and Apple called for a return to focusing their efforts on innovation rather than on litigation, the legal department at Apple has been grappling with a smorgasbord of recent decisions related to the company’s intellectual property. In complying with a U.K. court ruling to publish an apology for alleging that Samsung copied the design for its Galaxy tablet from the iPad (previously covered by the IPilogue here), Apple injected a tad more tongue-in-cheek humour than what the England and Wales Court of Appeal were prepared to chuckle at. While the initial order provided strict guidelines for how Apple was to issue an apology to Samsung, the iPad makers instead used the opportunity as a marketing tool to denounce the ingenuity of Samsung products.

It looks as though Sir Robin Jacob was not impressed by Apple’s backhanded commentary on the how the High Court got it all wrong, premised on the mere fact that other jurisdictions decided in favour of Apple and said Samsung had in fact copied its design of the iPad. A further order has been put in place by the Court of Appeal for Apple to remove its original apology statement and replace it with another that fully complies with the original order, with an extension on the period of time for which this notice must remain on its website. Sir Jacob was so aggrieved by Apple’s conduct that he awarded costs against the company on an indemnity basis, saying that this higher standard of awarding costs can be done “as a mark of the court’s disapproval of a party’s conduct, particularly in relation to its respect for an order of the court.”

The bad news doesn’t stop there for Apple – in Texas, the company was recently slapped with a $368 million damages order after losing its patent battle with VirnetX over networking patents used in FaceTime. VirnetX’s success has fueled its confidence to now add the iPhone 5 and certain iPad and Mac computer models to the lawsuit that were not originally included. In China, Apple has just appealed a decision from the Beijing Second Intermediate People's Court to pay the Encyclopedia of China Publishing House RMB520,000 as compensation for selling a pirated version of the Chinese encyclopedia in its App Store. Meanwhile, from across the Atlantic we’ve gotten word that Apple has paid a lump sum of $21 million to compensate Swiss national rail SBB for using a copyrighted and trade-marked image of SBB’s station clock without permission as an application icon in iOS 6. The Swiss-designed clock face is still used in SBB stations today. With the slew of lawsuits Apple has brought against other tech giants like Google and Samsung in recent years, it's odd to see Apple being accused (and found at fault, no less!) for infringing on the intellectual property rights of others.

However, it’s not all ominous news for Apple these days. The tech giant was recently granted an incredibly broad design patent for what essentially looks to be a rectangle with rounded corners by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. The figures included in the application look to be quite specific; the home button along the bottom of the tablet and the slight curve of the backside are clearly marked out in this design patent. While it’s doubtful that Samsung, HTC, and other tablet makers will likely be moving away from their already-established design aesthetics for a close copy of the iPad, certainly most tablet products fall in line with the general rectangular shape with “softened” edges.

Most recently, it was reported that Apple now also owns the patent to flipping pages on an e-reader. Okay, maybe this is an over-simplification of what the patent actually is for. Technically Apple received the patent for the way that the animation appears when users swipe their fingers across the screen to flip to the next page. Apparently no other competitor has developed this specific animation in doing the same type action. It will be interesting to see how tablet computer makers derive innovation from these new (and broadly applicable) restrictions in future product designs.

Fan Hannah Lan is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.