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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: HP should be suing Apple.
By retrospooty on 1/24/2012 3:24:36 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, true, but the Treo was the first to put it an OS and apps on a phone and also to put in a color LCD. Surely Apple copied Palm when they made the iPhone. All Apple added to that was a multitouch LCD and UI.

I am not being serious that Palm should sue, just pointing out the ridiculousness of Apple's lawsuits. If roles were revered and Apple had Palms product history, there WOULD be lawsuits. All companies copy others. If it were not done and not allowed, then GM, Chrysler, Mercedes, Toyota, Honda, BMW and all other car companies would not be allowed to make cars because they all copy Ford.

Apple really needs to get over themselves. They behave like a bad 1980's high school movie douchebag popular jerkoff jock protagonist.

Apple = dis guy

RE: HP should be suing Apple.
By Captain Orgazmo on 1/24/2012 8:27:52 PM , Rating: 2
You think Ford invented the automobile?! Your point is valid, but sheesh, remember America wasn't always a leader of industry... and isn't really one anymore :(

RE: HP should be suing Apple.
By Reclaimer77 on 1/24/2012 8:31:55 PM , Rating: 2
No they didn't, but they were the first ones to bring one "to market" and able to produce enough to actually meet demand.

I think his point still stands. If Ford behaved back then like Apple does now, they could claim all other automotive companies were "stealing" from them.

RE: HP should be suing Apple.
By Captain Orgazmo on 1/24/2012 8:41:39 PM , Rating: 2
Daimler was the first auto manufacturer, and produced thousands of cars yearly when Ford was making maybe a dozen. However, like Apple, Ford took an existing product and gave it mass market appeal through simplification and profitable manufacturing processes.

By Reclaimer77 on 1/24/2012 9:00:26 PM , Rating: 2
Daimler??? That was in England. As if that counts, pffft. :P

RE: HP should be suing Apple.
By omnicronx on 1/25/2012 11:34:03 AM , Rating: 2
No they didn't, but they were the first ones to bring one "to market" and able to produce enough to actually meet demand.
Its a pretty well known fact that Ford revolutionized the assembly line, they were not the first to market, nor were they the first to reasonably meet demand.

Still very similar to Apple though when you consider that the advantages of the assembly line, are very similar to how Apple achieves its dominance with vertical integration.

By retrospooty on 1/24/2012 9:19:02 PM , Rating: 2
They basically invented the mass production automobile in the model t. That pretty much puts them as the industry founders but no they didn't invent first auto. Unlike apple who invented touchscreens the computer any product with the color black or white and the sky itself by the time its lawyers are done.

RE: HP should be suing Apple.
By waynet2 on 1/25/2012 5:02:41 PM , Rating: 2
Ah, true, but the Treo was the first to put it an OS and apps on a phone and also to put in a color LCD. Surely Apple copied Palm when they made the iPhone. All Apple added to that was a multitouch LCD and UI.

Sorry, but at least two products had color screens prior to the Treo. Handspring Visor Prism and the Palm Tungsten E2, both of which I have owned (and still do own the E2). And the Handspring Visor Prism has a phone adapter.

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