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Judge calls out Apple on its ubiquitous design claims

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has fallen behind top Android smartphone manufacturer Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KS:005930) in global sales.  Analysts say it could face a similar fate in the tablet market by 2014 or 2015.  Apple insists that Android is only beating it in sales because it "stole" its intellectual property.  

Unable to stop the Android juggernaut on the market, it has taken the top Android smartphone manufacturers to court [1][2][3][4] [5][6][7][8] [9][10][11], trying to prove they infringed on its often ubiquitous patents, which included claims of inventing multi-touch and the swipe unlock.  The Android manufacturers have fought back: Samsung and Apple have over 80 smartphone-related suits and counter-suits to date in courts around the world, since the start of the war.

I. Samsung Can Continue to Sell its Products

Late Friday in the U.S., a judge in Northern District Californian federal courtJudge Lucy H. Koh, dealt a major setback to Apple's international campaign against Samsung.  Following earlier statements where she said she would "likely" deny Apple's request for preliminary injunction, she made it final -- no injunction for Apple.

An injunction could have allowed Apple to ban the sale of all Samsung smartphones in the U.S., as well as imports, without Apple having to work through the full standard due process procedure.   Instead, the Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets and other popular models like the Infuse 4G and Droid Charge will continue to be available to holiday shoppers.

Samsung spokersperson Jason Kim told Reuters in an email, "This ruling confirms our long-held view that Apple's arguments lack merit."

Apple's spokesperson Kristin Huguet disappointedly parrotted her company's previous statement: "[Samsung] blatant copying (Apple) is wrong."

The full PDF of the ruling is available here.

II. Samsung Likely Infringes Apple's Technology, But Not Its Design

While Judge Koh didn't necessarily dismiss the merits of Apple's lone technology patent in the case -- U.S. Patent No. 7,469,381, which covers a menu bounce animation -- she raised serious concerns about what she viewed as Apple's attempts to position itself as the lone manufacture of functional tablets and smartphones.

She comments that "a size that can be handheld, a screen that encompasses a large portion of the front face of the smartphone, and a speaker on the upper portion of the front face of the product" are functional characteristics, not aesthetic ones and thus should not be protected by Apple's design patents.

Apple asserts that it owns the exclusive rights internationally to produce "minimalist" (that term being the summary of Apple's more verbose claim by a judge in Germany) tablets -- thin, rectangular touch-screen driven tablets with few face buttons.  Thus far Germany has been the only nation to buy such a claim.

Judge Koh's comments call into question whether Apple will be able to successfully prove that Samsung is infringing its design patents -- U.S. Design Patent No. D618,677D593,087, and D504,889 -- given the compelling differences that exist between Samsung and Apple's product lines once you look past basic form factor.

As for the technology claim, Judge Koh ruled that the menu animation wasn't enough to cause "irreparable harm" to Apple, necessitating a sales ban.  She comments, "It is not clear that an injunction on Samsung's accused devices would prevent Apple from being irreparably harmed."

She did however indicate that Samsung likely infringed on the patent by including a similar animation in its distribution of the Android operatings system.  She wrote, "Apple has established a likelihood of success on the merits at trial."

Apple must now wait until July 30, 2012 to wrap up that case, though.

III. Legal Situation Grows Dire For Apple

Things are looking bad internationally for Apple's legal campaign against Android.  So far its only victories have been relatively inconsequential ones, with one exception.

A victory in Australian court, in which a single judge granted a preliminary injunction banning Samsung tablet sales was overturned by a three judge panel earlier this week.  While an appeal from Apple puts Samsung's sales down under on ice until Dec. 9, it seems unlikely that Apple will be able to sway the three judge panel, given how critical they were of the idea of a preliminary injunction.  Assuming Samsung's triumph is preserved, it will be able hit the market just in time for the final leg of holiday sales.

Elsewhere, in the Netherlands Samsung has escaped a sales ban by modifying its phones' Android distribution to remove the aforementioned "bounce" animation.  It looks likely that a similar loss, modification, and market reinstatement will occur for Samsung in the U.S.  Such a process does little to help Apple as it offers virtually no sales delay for Samsung and no serious damage to the quality of Samsung's product.

The lone sign of hope for Apple comes in Germany, Europe's third largest tablet market.  A German court ruled in a lawsuit solely dealing with Samsung's tablets that all of Samsung's tablets violated the design (not technology) patents held by Apple in the European Union.  This rulign was the polar opposite of the decision by a Netherlands court, which ruled, like the U.S. court, that Apple's design claims were too broad.

Samsung yielded to the German Judge's ruling, redesigning its product to have a different frame and repositioning its elements such as the speaker and buttons.  Apple however has filed a second suit against the new design, which should soon go on sale.  It reasserts that it should be the only company legally allowed to make a modern tablet (primarily touch driven, thin, rectangular), regardless of whether the modern tablet looks different from the iPad.  The German justice system has not yet decided whether or not to authorize Apple's request for a new preliminary injunction.

If Apple continues to lose or post inconsequential wins in the majority of its court cases the company may be forced to decide between financial success and continuing its personal legal vendetta against Android.  Late company co-founder and CEO Steve P. Jobs, described his final plan for his beloved company remarking, "I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product." 

His successors could be forced to make the tough decision of whether to follow that plan -- whether to exhaust all of the company's fortune on trying to "out-sue" its Android rivals.

Sources: Ruling via The Verge, Reuters

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RE: Moving the goal posts.
By honkj on 12/4/2011 1:15:41 AM , Rating: -1
then no one can be sure of whether someone is infringing upon a patent or not unless the writer of the patent says so, which is a ludicrous state of affairs.

or you could simply hold the two devices over your head, and ask the Samsung Counsel if they could tell the difference between the two, and when the Samsung Lawyer can not.. then you can pretty much decide what has been copied design wise....

by the way the Judge did do this, and the Samsung Lawyer could not tell the difference...

and the Judge has made it clear that Samsung will lose the trial on two patents on tech, and one design patent... and Apple only has to defend the validity of two other ones... actually they don't even have to do that....

Apple simply has to show up to trial, and they will win.... So while you mull the horrific state that our Patent system is in.... Apple is going to win the trial against Samsung... horrific patent system and all... Why? not because of our patent system, it is because everyone, including the judge knows Apple blatantly stole Apple design and tech.... EVERYONE including the JUDGE mind you.... and they have said so in court... and SO HAS THE JUDGE.....

and worse for Samsung, Apple is not after money here.... Apple has more money than even God knows what to do with.... Apple is out to destroy Samsung's behavior of constantly copying every product Apple comes out with....

rest assured Apple is going to win at trial... I can guarantee that... because the Judge has guaranteed it... and not just with the holding the devices over her head...

this is not even close folks... Samsung and HTC are in deep trouble next year... they will have to give up the ghost to satisfy Apple after Samsung and HTC lose their trials......

RE: Moving the goal posts.
By honkj on 12/4/2011 1:21:56 AM , Rating: 2
two patents on tech, and one design patent..

that should say: "two patents, one tech, and one design patent..."

it is because everyone, including the judge knows Apple blatantly stole Apple design and tech.... EVERYONE including the JUDGE mind you...

sould be: it is because everyone, including the judge knows Samsung blatantly stole Apple design and tech.... EVERYONE including the JUDGE mind you... (and she has said as much)

RE: Moving the goal posts.
By Helbore on 12/5/2011 6:04:05 AM , Rating: 2
Here's a challenge for you. Go stand in an electronics store and look at some TVs from a distance where you can't read the manufacturer's branding on them. Can you identify the difference? Do you know which is the Sony TV and which is the Samsung? Can you pick out the LG unit from Panasonic?

In some cases you might (a Samsung D8000 has a ridiculously think silver bezel, for example), but in most cases they will all look identical. A rectangular screen with a black bezel.

Should the first company to make an LCD TV with a black bezel be able to sue everyone else because they also have a TV with a black bezel? How about the form-factor? The fist company was the first to produce an LCD TV with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Should everyone else make triangular TVs to avoid infringing on their patent? Or is the patent ridiculous and clearly just intended to try and create a monopoly for company 1?

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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