The sprawling patent dispute between Apple and Samsung took a small but critical step toward resolution this week when the South Korean company agreed to write a check for the $548 million that courts have ordered it to pay.

In a filing yesterday in a San Jose federal court, Samsung said it would write the check, after having recently lost a series of appeals. The settlement stems from a case originally heard by a jury in 2011. Assuming Apple officially submits its invoice today, it would have Samsung’s money by December 14, according to a court filing. (You can read the filing here.)

Still, in agreeing to pay, Samsung said it was also reserving its right to continue various appeals and to request some or all of the money back, depending on future rulings. For instance, in a separate legal proceeding, Samsung noted that the U.S. Patent Trial and Appeal Board had invalidated one of the underlying patents involved in the case.

The filing marks the latest twist in a case that highlights the complexities of patent litigation and the often painfully slow course such disputes take before reaching a final resolution.

In August 2011, a jury ordered Samsung to pay Apple $1 billion for violating a series of patents related to the design and function of the iOS software that runs on the iPhone.

The case was initiated while Steve Jobs was still CEO. At the time, Jobs was furious that Google’s Android operating system had seemingly copied Apple’s revolutionary iOS.

Unable to sue Google directly (because it gives Android away for free), Apple chose Samsung as a natural proxy since its smartphones running on Android were rapidly overtaking the iPhone to become the world’s leaders by unit sales volumes. At the time of the first patent hearing, it seemed like the outcome of the case could tip the balance in the battle between these two tech giants.

However, four years later, Samsung’s smartphone sales have stumbled badly while the iPhone continues to gain momentum and set new records almost every quarter. The lingering patent squabbles involve versions of the respective phones that are generally not even available.

Along the way, Apple CEO Tim Cook has sought to wind down some of the legal battles involving Samsung, without ceding any ground. The two sides agreed at one point to cease their patent disputes outside the U.S.

And while Apple pursued a second patent case against Samsung, a jury only awarded the company $120 million, far short of the $2.2 billion Apple had sought.

While there are still many steps ahead before Apple and Samsung bring their fight to an end, the stakes seem to fall with each passing moment.


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