In a letter sent to Apple's lawyers on Wednesday, the office said it has completed a re-examination of the iPhone maker's patent on its zooming technology and has rejected all of Apple's claims. Citing older patents and published documents, the patent office found that Apple's claimed innovations were "unpatentable."
The determination is preliminary. The patent remains in force, and Apple will have a chance to appeal the ruling.
An Apple representative declined to comment on the rejection or on how the company will respond. But patent owners typically appeal such determinations and frequently have the decisions reversed, legal experts said.
"The No. 1 thing to keep in mind is this is not over with," said Brian Love, an assistant professor of law at Santa Clara University. "This is just a step in a long process."
The pinch-to-zoom patent was among the key patents at issue in Apple's recent lawsuit against Samsung. In finding that Samsung infringed on that patent and others, a jury awarded apple $1 billion in damages in August.
Samsung filed a copy of the patent office's decision with the court today, calling it relevant to its request for a new trial and to Apple's request for a permanent injunction against Samsung's products.
Despite the filing, it's unclear whether the patent office's decision will have any effect on the Apple-Samsung case, legal experts said. Assuming that Apple decides to contest the decision, it could take months or even years for the patent's validity to be decided and Apple has several layers of appeals open to it, they said.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh has wide discretion on whether or not to delay further proceedings in the Samsung case, they said.
"It's more likely than not that the court would be inclined to proceed on the current pace," because the patent office's findings are "so preliminary at this point," said Andrei Iancu, a patent attorney and managing partner at the Los Angeles office of Irell & Manella.
But he added that Koh could decide to push the pause button, "because this is such a high-profile case, and there's so much money at issue."
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