Samsung has won the latest round of its neverending patent war with Apple — and at just the right moment in its cultural ascendance, giving the South Korean gadget giant another notch on its "better-than-Apple" belt. Looking over the various appeals from both sides on that $1 billion jury ruling from this summer, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh denied motions late Tuesday night from both sides for a retrial and ruled that Samsung didn't willfully infringe on Apple's patents, meaning it didn't copy specific "trade dresses" on purpose. (The finding has to do with the difference between objective and subjective willfulness, as explained here.) While the $1 billion bill still stands, the infringement decision has both actual and symbolic meaning for Samsung. Because Samsung's phone designs weren't willfully a rip-off, it doesn't owe Apple any more money, which the iPhone originator has constantly had asked for. But now a major U.S. court has validated Samsung's phone and tablet designs as wholly separate from Apple's — even if they do look a lot similar. So Samsung is legally making money by other means than knocking off Apple, which is just the latest legitimization of the company in the upper ranks of the tech world.
Samsung has been making steady gains on Apple's cool factor as well as its financial success. While Samsung's Galaxy S phones enjoyed major fanboy love, the company reported record-high profits. In light of these recent wins, that patent war will only intensify, even as Apple's bid for a Samsung phone ban looks more unlikely than ever. Tech giants often battle each other for cultural relevancy and success in the court room, but the more Samsung challenges Apple's dominance, the nastier those patent wars will get.