Samsung Catches a Break in Australia Patent Tiff
It appears Samsung may be allowed to sell its Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia in time for the holiday season, thanks to a federal court's reversal of a preliminary injunction sought by Apple. The issue is not settled -- Apple can still appeal to the country's High Court -- but the latest ruling gives Samsung its first cause for optimism in a patent battle that has largely gone Apple's way up to now.
12/01/11 9:13 AM PT
Samsung has scored a victory against Apple in a legal skirmish in Australia that is part of a larger, global battle between the two over their respective patent rights.
An Australian appeals court overturned a preliminary injunction that barred Samsung from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the country. The court unanimously ruled that the judge hearing the original case had misinterpreted local patent law. The appeals panel also noted that there was "no arguable case of infringement" of Apple's touchscreen heuristics patent.
The ruling paves the way for Samsung to finally introduce the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia after several months of delay following the injunction.
Samsung plans to comment on the market availability of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia shortly, said Samsung spokesperson Adam Yates. Apple did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
In Time for the Holidays
The upcoming holiday season may well have played a role in the court's reversal of the injunction, Will Trueba, a founding partner with the law firm of Espinosa Trueba, told the E-Commerce Times.
"If the court allowed the ban until a final trial on the merits of the case, it would have effectively granted Apple a victory, given the length of time it would have taken to get to trial. The court granted Apple until Friday to appeal the decision of the full bench to the High Court, Australia's equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court, in order that Apple may try to keep the ban in place."
However, there is no guarantee that Australia's High Court will hear the appeal, he continued, and it's unclear how the court would modify the temporary injunction, if at all.
"One thing we do know is that the outcome of this case is unlikely to have any effect on the other pending cases around the world," said Trueba. "By and large, patent and trademark laws are unique to each country. While there are similarities among the laws of the various countries in which Apple and Samsung are battling, the findings of the court of one country will have very little bearing or persuasive effect on the rulings of another."
A Bitter Battle
Indeed, Australia is just one venue in which the two companies have clashed. The battle has been particularly bloody in Europe, where the companies are duking it out almost on a country-by-country basis.
The European Commission, perhaps tired of the incessant legal arguments, recently requested information from Samsung and Apple concerning the enforcement of "standards-essential patents" to make sure the legal system was not being abused.
That is not likely to dissuade the two from their litigious course. Even Australia is still in play, despite Samsung's current victory, David A. Makman of the Law Offices of David A. Makman, told the E-Commerce Times.
"I think the important thing to note here is that we are looking at claims for preliminary injunctive relief," he said.
The court in in Australia does not have enough evidence to make a final decision on the merits, which is why it is preliminary.
"A lot can happen between now and trial," Makman said.
The Big Picture
While the battle will be fought on technical points germane to the local legal system, justices in the various countries will not be able to set aside what is the overriding theme to this fight, he said. That is, what Samsung and Apple make are incredibly popular products, and consumers will benefit from having more than one tablet on the market.
An analogous case is the litigation between Kodak and Polaroid over the instamatic camera technology, suggested Makman.
"Ultimately, there was infringement and price erosion, and the remedy was a fabulously high damages award," he said.
"Apple, like Polaroid, is clearly the innovator with the market vision. Samsung is playing a risky game -- if they are tagged as infringers, the damages could be enormous. However, they clearly feel that they need to be in this market, they have their own property rights, and they are ready to fight."
The courts, for their part, have to decide whether it is better to interfere in the free market and allow Apple to enforce its property rights based on a preliminary record, or to take their time and reach a full decision on the merits, said Makman.
"These are very difficult decisions. If they give Apple an injunction now, and Samsung comes to court with its own patent and also demands injunction, it could turn out that neither product would be on the market until after the litigation is resolved -- a result that does not benefit consumers or society. "