Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has struggled in its “thermonuclear” legal war against Android in recent weeks. It saw Judge Richard A. Posner, a Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judge who moonlighted in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago), first toss its suit against Motorola Mobility (a Google Inc. (GOOG) subsidiary) out of court “with prejudice”, then refuse any injunction sales bans of Motorola Mobility’s phones.
I. Persistence Pays Off — Sort Of
But Apple keeps plugging away at its lawsuit efforts and it was rewarded this week when Judge Lucy Koh in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California (San Jose/San Francisco) awarded Apple a sales ban (preliminary injunction) on Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.’s (KSC:005930) Galaxy Tab 10.1.
The ruling, which does not apply to other Samsung tablets, comes after a Dec. 2011 ruling where Judge Koh refused to grant an injunction to Apple.
In that opinion, she argued that the Android operating system (designed by Google) on Samsung’s tablet likely infringed on Apple’s technology patents. She also wrote that while the Tab 10.1 likely did infringe on Apple’s iPad design patent — U.S. Design Patent D504,889 — that 2004 patent was likely invalid due to prior art. Thus she refused to grant an injunction, funneling the case towards a jury trial.
Apple’s D’889 patent [Image Source: Google Patents]
Apple appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals heard the case for the Federal Circuit — a higher court. That court’s May 14th ruling [PDF] confirmed Judge Koh’s finding of design infringement, but rejected her finding of invalidity, ruling that the Apple patent did not infringe on prior art, such as designs seen in fictional works like Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The case was sent back to Judge Koh who was forced to now grant a preliminary injunction given the sweeping infringement findings. After both sides filed their briefs, Judge Koh issued a ruling on June 26, with Apple emerging victorious:
Galaxy Tab Injunction Ruling
In the ruling she concludes, “For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Apple’s motion for a preliminary injunction and ENJOINS the sale of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer.”
II. Damage to Samsung Will Likely be Minimal
So where does this leave Samsung? First Samsung’s tablet sales in the U.S. have been lackluster, so the injunction isn’t a major blow to the company’s profitability, particularly given that only a single model is banned out of Samsung’s large lineup.
Samsung has a whole lineup of smaller tablets, which have not yet been banned.
[Image Source: Ubergizmo]
Samsung is actually financially fortunate that Judge Koh rejected Apple’s attempt to ban the launch of the flagship Galaxy S III phone, as that would be vastly more costly to Samsung’s revenue.
Apple has posted a $2.6M USD bond to enforce the ban. Enforcement usually takes a couple of weeks to be put in place. In the meantime Samsung is likely to swap out its Galaxy Tab 10.1, with the Galaxy Tab 10.1N, which it designed to skirt a similar ban. The Galaxy Tab 10.1N adds more distinctive differences from Apple’s design.
Samsung has also appealed the injunction. Its lawyers issued a statement, writing, “Apple sought a preliminary injunction of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1, based on a single design patent that addressed just one aspect of the product’s overall design. Should Apple continue to make legal claims based on such a generic design patent, design innovation and progress in the industry could be restricted.”
III. Bans in Other Regions Have Been Successfully Overturned
This isn’t exactly new territory for Samsung. This is actually the third time a large market has banned the Galaxy Tab 10.1 due to Apple’s design claims. Samsung successfully reversed both bans.
In Germany it reversed the ban by offering up the Galaxy Tab 10.1N, which redesigns the case to look even less like the iPad. Apple tried to re-ban that design, but a court rejected its attempt, arguing the new design looked nothing like Apple’s patent design.
In Australia, Samsung merely appealed the ban to a higher court, which found that the lower judge had ruled inappropriately. In a stern rebuke it reversed the judge’s ruling, allowing the base Galaxy Tab 10.1 to be “unbanned” and return to the market.
Given those successes, it seems unlikely that Apple will be able to prevent Samsung from selling 10-inch tablets, even in the short term. Apple’s spokeswoman claims Apple is merely trying to protect its patented designs. However, it’s pretty hard to believe that anyone truly mistook a Galaxy Tab for an iPad, or bought it because it “looked like an iPad.”
There’s no hope of this dispute reaching a settlement, after talks between the two company’s CEOs in Northern California District Court collapsed. Instead, the case will be going before a jury next month. The Jury will hear Apple’s case against Samsung and Samsung’s countersuit, both of which were filed in April 2011.
Judge Koh has limited both companies to 25 hours of testimony and 125 exhibits each. She says to allow them to spend as much time as their lawyers wanted would be to subject jurors to “cruel and unusual punishment”.
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