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EU court concludes that thorough review of prior art narrows Apple's design rights, vindicates Samsung

Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has lost its latest round in its legal war against Android, as signs of a stalemate with Android continue to grow.

I. Android and Apple Reaching a Stalemate

All things considered, Apple should be pretty pleased at its recent results.  It's managed to charge back to a near tie in the U.S. market, driven by pent up demand for a new iPhone, which was finally fulfilled by the iPhone 4S.  Meanwhile Apple has successfully defended itself against arch-rival Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (KS:005930) counterclaims in the Netherlands and in Germany, among other regions.

But that success has been soured by Apple's failure to win the legal fight it started.

On Tuesday, a Dutch court rejected Apple's appeal of a relatively pro-Samsung lower court ruling.  The lower court ruled that the numerous visual differences between the iPad and Samsung's Galaxy Tab tablet line were compelling enough to rule out design infringement -- a key point Apple was trying to prove.

Apple did win on a single point in the lower court case -- European Patent 2,059,868 -- a patent which covers features within a photo gallery app, features that the court found were too similar in Samsung's Android Gallery (pictures) app.  This similarity was removed via a simple software update that overhauled the Gallery app, allowing Samsung to resume sales of its smartphones and tablets.

Lawyers for Apple filed an appeal, hoping a higher court might change their mind
about the design difference.  But Apple had no such luck.

II. Dutch Court Complains Germans Didn't Consider Enough Prior Art

The Dutch court found Apple's design patent to be perfectly valid, but ruled that given the existence of at least two similar devices at the time of its launch (prior art), its design scope was narrow, and hence was not eligible for a blanket patent on all rectangular slab tablets.

The Dutch court considered the following examples of prior art in reaching this decision, as noted in the online ruling:
By contrast, the Düsseldorf Regional Court -- who will rule next week on whether to grant Apple a new preliminary injunction against Samsung's new German-specific Galaxy Tab 10, complete with reworked case design -- only considered the Knight Ridder tablet at the TC1000 in its determination that Apple should be granted a broader injunction over all "minimalist" rectangular tablets.  In other words, the Dutch court says its German justice peers -- and perhaps Samsung's German lawyers --didn't do their homework very well.

But signs that the German court may be ready to change its mind as the preliminary ruling found that Samsung's redesign was sufficient to escape infringement claims.

III. Quick Peek: Do You Think These Products are the Same?

In the past we've highlighted the differences in design between the iPad, and the Galaxy Tab 10.  This seems an appropriate time for a refresher.  The difference include:
  1. PINK (1):
    Only Galaxy Tab 10.1 has a camera (compared to the original iPad).
  2. GOLD:
    The thickness in the design patent doesn't match the thickness of the iPad or Galaxy Tab (please measure this in an imaging software, in pixels, if you don't believe us).
  3. TEAL:
    Bezel sizes don't match between any of the three designs.
  4. GREEN:
    Connectors and buttons on the side are different.
  5. ORANGE:
    Screen sizes and aspect ratios are different.
  6. PINK (2):
    Only the iPad has a home button.
  7. PURPLE:
    All tablets are clearly and unambiguously branded.
  8. RED:
    The back color doesn't match.
Tablet comparison

IV. The Impact of the Prolonged Court Battle

The Dutch court has now rejected both Apple and Samsung's initial claims.  Apple continues to file new claims, but one has to wonder how long it will continue before it tires of wasting energy and effort in what is increasingly a losing battle.  The same goes for Samsung.  Expect the German ruling to be pivotal in the future of this legal war.  A win could embolden Apple, but a loss would make the lawsuit crusade look increasingly self-destructive for the American electronics firm.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (original design) [Images Source: 9to5Google]

In many ways the lawsuit crusade is part of late Apple CEO and co-founder Steven P. Jobs' final legacy.  But one has to wonder as these suits drag on, whether customers will slowly grow aware of these actions and tire of Apple's litigious ways.

Apple's desire to try to circumvent competition via the courts is puzzling, given that it seems to be doing alright already in terms of recent sales versus Android.  While its suits have helped to stifle the proliferation of Android tablets slightly, they have mostly just left the Cupertino, Calif. company with legal bills and negative publicity.  This stands in sharp contrast to Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFTfriendlier pro-licensing approach, which has earned fat payouts on the wave of Android phonemakers' -- including Samsung's -- sales successes.

Source: de Rechtspraak (Dutch Appeals Court)

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RE: The long war
By JasonMick on 1/24/2012 3:18:20 PM , Rating: 5
Obviously the iPhone (which rendered all existing smart phones obsolete on it's launch) and the iPad (which created with a single product a new large tablet market) were both imitated. That was inevitable. But Apple seems to have been determined to try to deter the more blatant copying and cloning and that way is trying to do so is by wide spread attritional legal action. In the long run it cannot completely stop people imitating the look and feel of the iPhone, the iPad or iOS but it can make it more difficult, more fraught and more uncertain. If Apple can win enough legal engagements then it helps ensure that its products can compete based upon the companies core strategy which is one of product differentiation.

I'll bite... imitated in what way?

Multi-touch tablets were in the works at Microsoft before the iPad was officially announced... anyone with half a brain could see this was one possible direction the market could go in.

As for the iPhone, again, multi-touch devices had been played around with for years, Apple simply won the race to commercialize them.

In terms of form factor there's very little new or innovative about the iPad or iPhone -- again their form factor was dicated by the technology. The iPad, for example, liberally borrowed from portable bezelled displays (e.g. photo viewers, etc.) and simply shrunk the back face and stuck in netbook guts.

The innovation of these devices owes largely to companies like Samsung, Synaptic, and ARM who designed the actual hardware that made the iPad and similar devices possible.

As for iOS, have you ever heard of Palm OS? Virtually exact same idea and looks -- App SDK, "grid of apps" homepage, mixture of games, productivity, etc. The only difference was Apple nailed the digital distribution -- which again others (like Valve) did long before it did, just not as slickly.
Apple consider, with some justification, that back in the bad old 1990s when the company was being run by bozos that one aspect of the weakness of Apple's strategic conduct was it's failure to defend its IP . This meant, Apple's believes, that it's IP strategy back then was weak and ineffectual and that some aspects of what Apple created was copied and used to compete against it.

Whaaaa... "defend its IP"? We're talking about a company who founded its business by ripping off Xerox (Yes, I know Jobs paid Xerox a small fee for an extended tour, but clearly a foolish Xerox did not expect him to lift the ideas from PARC wholesale.)!

I'd be amazed if Apple didn't end up paying some big backroom royalties to Xerox. Apple has always been about taking other people's good ideas, refining them, and putting them out in a pretty package.

Its founder even said this, explicitly.

RE: The long war
By retrospooty on 1/24/2012 3:27:50 PM , Rating: 2
Not to mention how Apple totally ripped Palm off... The Treo was the first to put an OS and apps on a phone and also to put in a color LCD. Apple copied both ideas. What about that Tony? Thats OK, when Apple does it huh?

RE: The long war
By Cheesew1z69 on 1/24/2012 4:56:38 PM , Rating: 2
Tony is blind to these things, and it's painfully obvious at this point. His opinion, is fact for him. No matter what evidence is given to him, he just ignores it. It truly is sad.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton

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