On October 24th, a judge made a preliminary ruling that Samsung infringed on four of Apple's patents (one of which was a phone design patent, while the rest were utility patents).
The judge is part of the International Trade Commission (ITC), which means that court decisions are reviewed by the Office of Unfair Import Investigation (a.k.a. "ITC staff").
The role of the staff is to be a third party that defends the public interest. They can make recommendations regarding cases, but neither the Commission nor the judge has to do what the staff says. The staff is known to petition reviews of important cases, but, again, they can't force reviews into action.
With a filing today (a redacted version of a filing from ten days ago), the ITC staff made it clear that they support the judge's preliminary finding against Samsung. Though support of the decision had been speculated because of the staff's silence until now, today's filing confirmed suspicions. The judge "did not commit legal or factual error" in the staff's opinion. Although both Apple and Samsung had appealed the October decision, the staff turned down all of Samsung's requests and all but one of Apple's requests (investigation of a patent for an "audio I/O headset plug and plug detection circuitry" believed to have been infringed.)
This wholehearted support by the staff effectively shoots down any additional maneuvering from either tech company involved in the case. Apple wants the final ruling to be more extensive and severe. (Samsung can, after all, get away from most of the consequences of this ruling by providing effective workarounds to the enforced patents.) Samsung, on the other hand, needs to protect its image. If all four patent violations are found to be true, then that only supports the negative effects brought on by the billion-dollar ruling that Samsung lost this past summer.
The staff's support of the judge could be one of the final steps leading up to a ban of some of the offending devices from Samsung, but the 6-member team of the ITC will likely need to get involved before making a move in such a high-profile case.
Source: Foss Patents