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German Court Steps Back in Apple-Samsung Patent Feud

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Aug 16, 2011 3:08 PM PT

A regional court in Germany reversed a decision it made earlier this week to place a preliminary injunction on the sale of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, not just in Germany, but throughout the European Union. The ban was made effective in all EU countries except the Netherlands, where a separate court was hearing the matter.

German Court Steps Back in Apple-Samsung Patent Feud

The injunction was issued at the behest of Apple, which is pursuing legal remedies against tablet makers it accuses of infringing its intellectual property rights in the iPad, one of the company's crown jewels. This group includes Samsung, which was poised to bring the Galaxy Tab 10.1 to the European market as the injunction was placed, and Motorola, which introduced the Xoom.

Then the Duesseldorf court said, in essence, "never mind," ruling that it was debatable whether a German court had the authority to ban a company headquartered in South Korea from selling throughout Europe.

Samsung's German unit is still enjoined from selling the device in Europe, but other distribution and sales channels are now open to the company.

Apple and Samsung did not respond to the E-Commerce Times' requests for comment by press time.

Unexpected Move

Indeed, some eyes widened when the news of the pan-European injunction first came out, David Makman of the Law Offices of David A. Makman told MacNewsWorld. "I don't know why the German court thought it was appropriate that it would be able to do that. People I talked to about it that have IP experience in Europe were surprised as well."

Pan-European injunctions have been made before, primarily by the Netherlands' courts. However, at some point it was decided courts couldn't issue them, he said.

Not that Makman doubts the integrity of the original decision to issue the preliminary injunction. "Reasonable minds can disagree about strength of IP rights, both here and in Europe. I don't know what the judge's reasoning was but I am sure it must have been valid."

In Apple's original filing with the German court, it explicitly argued that it was entitled under EC law to a Community injunction and had citations in support of its position.

Another Fly in the Ointment

Another factor to consider is that when Apple applied for this preliminary injunction, it did so ex parte, "meaning that Samsung did not have an opportunity to oppose its issuance through the submission of evidence or challenging whether the court had jurisdiction over the named Samsung entities," said Will Trueba, a founding partner with the law firm of Espinosa Trueba.

"Hence, the court is likely trying to determine whether it has proper personal jurisdiction over the South Korea-based Samsung entity, and then whether the ties between Samsung in South Korea and the Germany-based Samsung affiliate are such that it would be appropriate for the German court to enjoin the South Korea-based company," he told MacNewsWorld.

Meanwhile, Apple and its lawyers reportedly may have misled the German court by submitting flawed evidence, Trueba noted -- images of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 next to Apple's iPad 2 that suggested nearly identical dimensions and aspect ratios.

"Apparently, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is more oblong and taller than the iPad 2," he said. "If these news reports are true, then Apple may lose some credibility with the court, and this may provide Samsung grounds to challenge whether the preliminary injunction ought to be lifted altogether."

Next Steps

Another hearing on the injunction is scheduled for August 25 in Germany. The two parties will be submitting legal arguments and evidence addressing the court's concern regarding jurisdiction over Samsung, Trueba said.

While Samsung's situation has improved immeasurably, it still must navigate the court systems in both the Netherlands and Germany -- two key points of pan-European distribution, Makman noted.

"One interesting aspect of this suit is that neither Apple nor Samsung has its principal place of business in the EU," Makman added. "I am glad that the lack of European citizenship of the parties did not prevent the court from issuing the relief that it considered appropriate."

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