Update: Patent Plot Thickens: Apple Sues Samsung; ITC Pushes For Nokia, HTC

Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 CTIA 2011

Two developments in Apple’s various patent fights over mobile products: The company got a knock back at the U.S. International Trade Commission, which recommended backing HTC and Nokia’s position in separate patent suits filed against the companies by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). Meanwhile, it has at the same time opened an entirely new front in the patent war, by filing a complaint against Samsung over its Galaxy line of products.

Today, the ITC determined that HTC and Nokia (NYSE: NOK) do not infringe Apple’s patents, in separate cases where Apple is seeking to ban imports of the companies’ products for such violations.

The HTC case concerns five different patents around its Android devices, while the Nokia case covers one of those five. In both, HTC and Nokia have countersued Apple as well. The HTC case is due to begin on May 9, while another judge in March already determined that Apple was not violating any Nokia patents.

Today’s ITC’s recommendation is not legally binding: according to a report in Bloomberg, the HTC case is due to be decided on by Administrative Law Judge Carl Charneski on August 5, at which point it will get reviewed by the full six-member commission; this could end up resulting in HTC getting a ban on imports of its devices, if the ITC rules against it. The Nokia case is going up on June 24.

Samsung=Samesung? It was once a joke used on the television show 30 Rock (an exec sold the E in GE to Samsung…), but Apple thinks it’s no laughing matter. In what looks like another Android headache for Apple, the company has filed a complaint with the U.S. District Court in Northern California, alleging that the Korean manufacturer’s popular Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets steal ideas from Apple’s mobile products, claiming patent and trademark infringement, as well as unfair competition.

The complaint, detailed in AllThingsD, covers areas ranging from technology to physical hardware design and even screen icons. The suit covers not just the iPhone but also the “trade dress” (the physical aspects) of its iPad device: “Samsung’s Galaxy Tab computer tablet [pictured] also slavishly copies a combination of several elements of the Apple Product Configuration Trade Dress,” it notes.

What happens next? Apple is seeking injunctions, actual damages and punitive damages against Samsung. If successful, that could end up being a bad sign for the other Android makers out there.

Update: Apple has released a statement on the lawsuit, which it has sent to mocoNews: “It’s no coincidence that Samsung’s latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging. This kind of blatant copying is wrong, and we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.”

Asked if it would extend the lawsuit to other territories such as Europe and Asia, Apple declined to comment. Since the story of the lawsuit broke, there have been reports that Samsung intends to counter-sue.

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