Samsung and Apple continue to battle in court over patent-infringement claims, but Samsung has scored at least a notable victory involving its aging Galaxy Nexus smartphones.
In a decision handed down Oct. 11, a panel of three federal appeals court judges overturned a preliminary injunction awarded to Apple in August that blocked Samsung's sales of its Galaxy Nexus smartphones in the United States. The injunction was awarded while both sides are tussling over patent-infringement claims involving the smartphones.
The decision means that Samsung will be able to continue to sell Galaxy Nexus phones while the legal fight continues. Apple originally filed the request to block Samsung's sales of the devices in February while another patent-infringement case, which resulted in a $1.05 billion verdict against Samsung in August, was making its way through the courts. The remaining case involving the Galaxy Nexus is expected to be heard later this year.
In their decision to toss the injunction, the judges wrote that the judge in the original case in August, U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh, abused her discretion in issuing the injunction against Apple in the first place.
To have correctly earned such an injunction, the appeals court wrote, Apple would have had to have proven that consumers purchased Galaxy Nexus handsets because they specifically included the features that Apple claimed are infringing on its patents.
"In this light, the causal link between the alleged infringement and consumer demand for the Galaxy Nexus is too tenuous to support a finding of irreparable harm," the appeals court wrote.
In the August case, Samsung was ordered to pay Apple $1.05 billion as punishment for infringing on Apple's mobile device patents in the design of its tablets and smartphones. In that case, Samsung products found to have violated Apple patents included the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Galaxy 10.1 tablets and such smartphone models as the Captivate, the Galaxy S line, the Fascinate and the Epic 4 G. In the case of most patents, the jury ruled that Samsung's infringement of them was "willful."
In late September, Samsung asked Koh to set aside the $1.05 billion verdict in the original case based on allegations of possible jury misconduct. Judge Koh, who presided over that trial, will review those claims and other related motions from both sides at a hearing in December.
After the August verdict, Samsung clearly said that it would not be giving up its legal battle with Apple, despite the large verdict against the company.
"The [U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California] verdict starkly contrasts decisions made by courts in a number of other countries, such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Korea, which have previously ruled that we did not copy Apple's designs," Samsung stated in its memo. "These courts also recognized our arguments concerning our standards patents."
Samsung officials said in the memo that they still intend to prove that their products are based on original designs that contain their own innovations.
For both companies, the stakes are truly huge because of the case's implications for competition in the multibillion dollar mobile device market.
Samsung and Apple are the first and second best-selling smartphone vendors in the market, respectively, according to figures from research firm IDC. In the second quarter, Samsung smartphone sales jumped by 173 percent over the second quarter of 2011, to 50.2 million units.
Apple's sales grew by 27.5 percent, to 26 million units. The next two vendors on the list, Nokia and HTC, both suffered double-digit sales declines as customers gravitated to the top-selling Samsung and Apple devices.
Apple, however, holds a substantial lead in the sale of tablets, according to a report from IHS. In the fourth quarter, Apple held a 62 percent share of the global tablet market, with Samsung's Galaxy Tab line a distant second at 6.4 percent.
In July, a German court ruled for Samsung in a similar patent-infringement case involving product designs. In that case, the German court rejected an appeal by Apple regarding Samsung's newer Galaxy Tab 10.1N tablets. Apple had appealed an earlier court decision that found that the latest, redesigned Galaxy Tab 10.1N tablets are different enough and don't infringe on Apple's designs. At the same time, however, the German court also ruled that Samsung's earlier Galaxy Tab 7.7 tablet computers can no longer be sold anywhere in the European Union because they infringe on Apple patents.