A judge sided with Apple (s aapl) on Friday, saying she would not provide detailed instructions to a jury about how to interpret patent drawings that lay out claims to the iPad and iPhone. Instead, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said it would be up to the jurors to use “the eye of an ordinary observer” to decide if Korean phone maker Samsung copied the drawings.
The ruling represents one of the final skirmishes before a closely-watched trial set to kick off Monday in San Jose near Apple’s headquarters. The California trial is the biggest showdown yet in a global struggle in which Apple is carpet-bombing Samsung with intellectual property claims in the hopes of removing Samsung products from store shelves and forcing it to pay massive damages.
The decision that the drawings can “speak for themselves” is significant because it means the judge will not, as Samsung had hoped, provide detailed legal instructions about how to decipher the patents. Instead, the jurors will be asked to base their decision on the overall design and to give “such attention as a purchaser usually gives.”
The drawings in question are from four Apple design patents. Each patent contains between two and 48 drawings that are used to illustrate how Apple owns features like the shape of the iPad and the black-colored surface of the iPhone (the three iPhone-related patents can be found here, here and here while the iPad one is here ). Here are some examples of the drawings the jurors will consider (note that the judge will, however, instruct them that the dotted lines indicate that Apple is not claiming that part of the design) :
The ruling that the jurors’ should decide based on the overall impression of the drawings may strengthen Apple’s case that Samsung copied its designs. But if they do find copying, Samsung could still be off the hook if the jury (again acting as an “ordinary observer”) decides the patents are obvious based on earlier tablet and smartphone designs. For instance, Samsung is arguing that Apple itself lifted design ideas from these Sony prototypes:
The design patent dispute is just the most high profile part of a case that also features a complicated mix of other intellectual property claims such as utility patents, trade dress and more. The trial, for which jury selection is to begin on Monday, will also address whether Apple infringed Samsung’s patents. Apple claims Samsung’s claims fail because they are based on so-called FRAND patents which companies must license because they part of an industry standard.