Is Apple losing grip in patent war with Samsung?
US judge denies iPhone maker’s request for sales ban; new ruling forthcoming
By Kim Yoo-chul
The ongoing patent war between Samsung and Apple has reached a turning point as the Korean technology heavyweight clinched two straight wins against the iPhone maker, including one in the United States.
Its legal team was upbeat after the recent victory in a California court, which the company says was “critical,” to possibly lead to another one in Paris, France, on Dec. 8.
The court there will rule on Samsung’s request for a complete sales ban on the Apple iPhone 4S there. “If we win in Paris as well, that’s truly a big blow to Apple,” said an unnamed Samsung executive by telephone, Monday.
Apple’s injunction against Samsung’s Galaxy-branded tablet and three Android smartphones was rejected on Apple’s home turf.
Lucy Koh, a U.S. District Judge in California, denied Apple’s request filed in April for a preliminary injunction to block the Samsung products, which it alleged infringed Apple’s design-related patent rights.
“It is not clear that an injunction on Samsung’s accused devices would prevent Apple from being irreparably harmed,” the judge stressed.
Koh also wrote Apple would likely prove Samsung infringed one of its tablet patents, however, Apple hadn’t shown that it was likely to overcome Samsung’s challenges to the patents’ validity.
That means Samsung is now free to continue selling its tablets and smartphones in the United States during the crucially-important year-end shopping season.
“We are ready to aggressively sell the Tabs,” said the Samsung executive.
In an official statement, the company said it welcomes the ruling as it confirms its long-held view that Apple’s arguments lack merit. The firm also said the court has recognized substantial questions it raised about the validity of certain Apple designs.
“We are confident that we can demonstrate the distinctiveness of Samsung’s mobile devices when the case goes to trial next year,” according to the statement.
Samsung spokesman Kevin Jeong said the company’s legal team has begun analyzing the ruling and how it will impact future trials. “But basically, the U.S. ruling looks positive.”
The ruling comes days after the Federal Court of Australia in Sydney ruled against a request by Apple to ban the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Apple initially took Samsung to court in California in April insisting that the Galaxy product lineup “slavishly copied” the designs of its iPhone and iPads.
Now, the two companies have filed at least 30 lawsuits in nine different countries. Samsung has been spending hugely for the battle because the outcome is viewed as its “destiny” to become a truly global leader in the electronics industry.
Samsung CEO Choi Gee-sung said some $200 million has been set aside through next year to respond to the ongoing legal tussle with its corporate frenemy Apple.
Samsung lost to Apple in two similar cases in Germany and the Netherlands, previously.
Steve Park, Apple spokesman in Korea was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency that “It’s no coincidence that Samsung’s latest products look a lot like the iPhone and the iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface, and even the packaging.”
'Design patents not answer'
Design is undoubtedly one of Apple’s key success factors and that’s why the decision by Koh is regarded as bad for Apple fans.
Florian Mueller, a German-based intellectual expert who runs a popular FossPatents blog, wrote it had become clear that design patents are not the answer to Apple’s issues with Samsung.
“If Apple wants to defend market share against Samsung (and other Android device makers), it really needs to focus on solid technical patents instead,” Mueller said in the blog.
But the expert insisted that the initial U.S. ruling was too skeptical to Apple’s claims and expects that a final decision could be more favorable.
“This preliminary finding indicates clearly that Samsung can easily modify the design of those phones in order to design around the scope of any future ruling,” Mueller said.
Samsung Electronics shares have hit a record high on Korea’s main bourse mostly helped by the brisk performance of Samsung’s smartphone sales.
The company became the world’s biggest smartphone maker in the third quarter of this year in terms of total shipments. Even the legal fight with Apple hasn’t dragged down its sales of mobile gadgets as Samsung is differentiating its hardware materials such as display technology.
“This is another factor why Samsung has been maintaining its hard-line stance against Apple. The U.S. ruling is expected to fuel more momentum for it to further strengthen the existing stance,” said another Samsung executive.
“I think that Apple’s and Samsung’s market shares are so high that Judge Koh shouldn’t have dismissed quite so easily Apple’s claim that Samsung’s sales bite into its market share. Right now the smartphone market is growing fast, so the simple kind of evidence that declining sales might constitute isn’t available,” Mueller said.
Apple licensed at least one of its iOS software patents related to scrolling functionality to Nokia and IBM of the United States and made the same offer to Samsung during failed settlement negotiations in November 2010, according to reports.