Samsung could help Apple avoid large patent payout

The Cupertino firm's one step closer to avoiding a costly fine thanks, in part, to its Korean rival.

A review board at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has invalidated a claim against Apple with help from rival Samsung. The two firms are normally on opposite ends of the rope when it comes to a tug of war over patents. The story began about a year ago, when a Texas court ordered Apple to pay $533 million to holding firm SmartFlash, after it argued Apple's iTunes infringes three of its patents. SmartFlash's claims related to technologies for payments, storage and copy protection. It's the payment patent that the review board has dismissed, stating that it covers a "fundamental economic practice long in existence in commerce."

Samsung's involvement isn't entirely selfless. The Korean giant was also accused of infringing the same technology, moving it to persuade the USPTO to review the validity of the patents in the first place. Apple still faces a review of the other two patents, verdicts for which should arrive on April 4 and May 30. Only then will we know if the iPhone-maker needs to issue a payout, and for how much. For Apple's part, it not only claims the patents are invalid, but that it doesn't even use the techniques they cover. SmartFlash, which makes its money licensing patents, can challenge the USPTO's decision.