Alexander Melfi is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School, and is currently enrolled in Professor Ikechi Mgbeoji’s Patents class, in Fall 2011. As part of the course requirements, students are asked to write a blog on a topic of their choice.
At the last count, the number of lawsuits between Apple and Samsung in relation to infringements of wireless and tablet computer technology had reached 21. This world-spanning legal battle between two of the tech industry’s titans has been a regular news item for the past few months and figures to continue as such for the foreseeable future. As patent-based litigation continues to grow, this case stands out as it has become increasingly complex.
To add some context, Apple initiated legal proceedings against Samsung back in April, claiming that the Korean-based company’s Galaxy Tab tablet computer, among other products, infringes the patented design of its ever-popular iPhone and iPad 2 products. Apple claimed that the tablet computer infringes 10 patents it holds, including “selective rejection” touchscreen technology. This technology works to ensure that accidental touches to the device do not result in programs being launched.
Apple achieved key victories early on. At the Regional court of Dusseldorf in Germany, a preliminary injunction was granted and the court supported Apple’s claims of patent infringement. As a result, Samsung had been barred from selling the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Europe (not including The Netherlands, where a separate lawsuit by Apple has been filed). Although a portion of the injunction was temporarily reversed, a Dutch court in The Hague imposed an EU-wide ban on the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone line.
The most recent victory for Apple came in Australia on October 13, 2011. Apple was awarded an interim injunction by the Australian Federal Court, preventing Samsung from selling the Galaxy Tab 10.1 until the legal proceedings between these two companies are resolved. This has effectively delayed the launch of the Samsung product in Australia, which had been scheduled for the end of September 2011. As the decision regarding the preliminary injunction filed by Apple in the United States gets closer, Florian Mueller observed that a victory in California for Apple may be the tipping point. As Apple’s case keeps gaining momentum, Samsung may decide a settlement is an appropriate course of action to protect the viability of its valuable product line.
However, Samsung does not appear ready to give up just yet as it has ongoing countersuits against the iPhone and iPad. Filed in France and the Netherlands, Samsung claimed that the iPhone and iPad infringe three patents it owns for 3G data (3G is the third generation of standards relating to mobile phones and telecommunication services). This strategy is primarily aiming to hit Apple where it matters most – the iPhone. As Apple managed to sell 4 million of its recently released iPhone 4S model in the first three days it was available, any legal setbacks may prompt Apple to back off in its battle against Samsung.
Any optimism on the part of Samsung on this front may have been squashed already. Just last week, a Dutch court rejected Samsung’s argument that Apple should not be able to sell devices that use the 3G technology it patented. Finding that 3G is the current industry standard, the court ruled that Samsung was obligated to offer Apple licenses to use the technology under “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms”. Until it does so, Samsung cannot file a fresh patent injunction request.
The injunctions could not have come at a worse time for Samsung. Its Galaxy Tab had been praised as a worthy opponent to the market-dominating iPad and the Android operating system it runs began to take a bite out of Apple’s market share. These days, it appears that every Tom, Dick and Harry is entering the market with their own version of the tablet computer, but none have even come close to usurping Apple’s stranglehold on consumers. Unless Samsung can mount a successful defence against Apple, the iPad and iPhone may continue to be the dominant forces in the consumer technology industry without rival.