With the decision of a Dutch court to grant Apple a preliminary injunction on certain Samsung smartphones, the big patent war between the two giants took an interesting twist. A Dutch court has found Samsungs Galaxy Ace, Galaxy S and Galaxy S II smartphones infringe Apple's software patents.
The offending patent EP 2058868 describes a method to browse through a gallery. It should be noted, that Apple apparently didn't properly file this patent in all EU member states, and the injunction might only apply to a few countries. There have been other patents discussed in the case, but the judge ultimately ruled that the patent covering a method to unlock a portable device by swiping an unlock image was invalid.
The court decision is a huge blow for Samsung, as the Netherlands are used as a distribution hub for other European countries. For Samsung, it's certainly not game over yet. They plan to appeal to the court decision, which only becomes effective on October 13th. Due to the nature of the infringing patent, the company could easily deploy a software fix, which changes the offending functionality. This could allow them to continue selling the aforementioned products even if their legal defense doesn't prove effective. Finally, it should be mentioned that only the Dutch subsidiaries of Samsung are affected by the ruling, not the Korean parent company. While this includes the companies responsible for European distribution, Samsung could ultimately find other ways to cater to other European countries.
The following statement was issued to Samsung to media:
"Today’s ruling is an affirmation that the GALAXY range of products is innovative and distinctive. With regard to the single infringement cited in the ruling, we will take all possible measures including legal action to ensure that there is no disruption in the availability of our GALAXY smartphones to Dutch consumers.
This ruling is not expected to affect sales in other European markets.
Samsung has a proud history of innovation in the mobile industry. We will continue our plans to introduce new products and technologies that meet and exceed consumer expectations. And we will defend our intellectual property rights through the ongoing legal proceedings around the world."
Earlier this month, German court granted Apple a preliminary injunction against Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1. First it was thought that the ruling would amount to an EU-wide injunction, but soon it was limited to Germany only, as the court didn't have the competence to make an EU-wide injunction. In that case, Apple claimed that the Galaxy Tab infringes the iPad design, which is registered in the EU. There has been some controversy over this court decision, as the description of the design is very ambiguous and lists properties such as "a rectangular product with four evenly rounded corners", "a flat, clear surface that covers the front of the product" or "if the product is switched on, colored icons within the display" (non-exhaustive list).
Interestingly both in the German and the Dutch cases, Apple was accused of using manipulated imagery to make their products appear more similar in comparison with the allegedly infringing ones from Samsung. While in Germany this didn't influence the case at all, since the judge examined the actual products directly, in the Dutch case the accusation was a bit harsh. Apple simply scaled the image of the Galaxy S II smartphone to be roughly the same size as the iPhone. Since the court ruling wasn't related to the design at all, this probably didn't play a role as well.
Overall the legal battle between Apple and Samsung spans over no less than 19 lawsuits, which are spread over 12 courts located in nine different countries on four continents, according to FOSS Patens blogger Florian Müller. In ten of those cases Apple acts as the plaintiff, in the rest as defendant.
The ultimate winner of the lawsuit in the Netherlands has yet to be decided, be it through a full trial or a settlement. In any case, the only real winners of such lawsuits are lawyers who rake the legal proceeds.