On Friday U.S. Judge Lucy Koh denied Apple’s motion for a preliminary injunction against Samsung, which, if it had been granted, would have halted the sale of the Infuse 4G, Droid Charge, and Galaxy S 4G phones and Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the United States pending the conclusion of the lawsuit. Because the case isn’t scheduled to go to trial until July 30, 2012 this would have been both a strategic and symbolic victory for Apple in its ongoing legal battles relating to alleged infringers of Apple’s intellectual property rights or, as Apple has called them, “copyists.” For now, we will have to wait and see what else Apple’s legal army will come up with in this dispute with Samsung. Barring further developments, Samsung can keep selling its Infuse 4G, Droid Charge, and Galaxy S 4G phones and Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in the United States at least until the case is tried next summer.
For those of you who haven’t been following this lawsuit, Apple doesn’t like the fact that some of Samsung’s products happen to look a lot like its own products and is suing to stop Samsung from allegedly ripping off its intellectual property (product design and packaging, design patents, and trademarks) and to collect damages for any harm Apple has already suffered. This ruling marks the most recent development in this saga and the redacted 65-page opinion offers some interesting insight into the case.
There was a lot of buzz about the implications of this ruling circulating around the Internet over this weekend. Samsung was one of the first to speak out. In response to the ruling Samsung issued an official statement, which, in my opinion, seems to overstate the implications of the ruling. According to Samsung:
“Samsung welcomes today’s ruling denying Apple’s request for a preliminary injunction. This ruling confirms our long-held view that Apple’s arguments lack merit…”
I’m not a patent attorney and many of the details of this case aren’t even public. But it seems to me that Samsung came pretty close to losing on one of the iPhone patent claims, which would have knocked several of their flagship products out of the market for the foreseeable future. In fact, the Court pointed out that Apple had “established a likelihood of success on the merits at trial…” in regards to one of those claims, though it admitted the issue was a close one. I fail to see how this defensive victory leads to the conclusion that Apple’s arguments lack merit but, then again, what else is Samsung going to say? Apple couldn’t win this particular battle, but winning a motion for a preliminary injunction is an extremely difficult thing to do and there’s a lot more to this case outside of the context of this motion. Friday’s ruling was made on a very specific subset of claims for the sole purpose of determining the appropriateness of a preliminary injunction. In this lawsuit Apple has actually asserted a number of hardware, software, and design patent infringement claims as well as other trade dress and trademark law violations.
For this motion Apple selected only three design patent infringement claims and one software patent infringement claim. Apple likely did this because by focusing on only its strongest claims it would give Apple the best chance for a quick and favorable ruling. Timing is everything and it’s no secret that Apple wants to move quickly on these lawsuits. Apple has already managed to have the case expedited and this motion for the preliminary injunction was just another one of Apple’s strategies to put the pressure on Samsung. Apple’s desire for urgency isn’t misplaced; it’s a classic land grab situation – Apple wants newcomers to the smartphone and tablet markets because they’re easier to get than those already entrenched in other brands or operating systems. Apple knows that time is a factor because it understands that brand loyalty plays a big part in the consumer’s buying process and, therefore, doesn’t want Samsung grabbing those new, impressionable, customers before it does. People are buying up smart phones and tablets in droves and every day Apple can take Samsung out of the equation is another day Apple gets first crack and this new untapped market. Unfortunately for Apple, the gambit here didn’t pay off.
In its simplest sense, a preliminary injunction is a court telling someone to stop doing something in order to protect the interests of one of the parties while they get on with the case. Preliminary injunctions are fairly uncommon in litigation because they are viewed as an extraordinary form of relief; they are forcing a party to stop doing something before the case is decided. Obviously, there’s a serious risk that affected parties might be irreparably harmed if such an order is misplaced and, therefore, courts are generally reluctant to issue preliminary injunctions except where they really are necessary.
In deciding whether to grant Apple’s motion on each of the claims the Court evaluated whether Apple met its burden in showing four things (paraphrased) that: (1) there was a likelihood that Apple would win the claim on its merits; (2) there was an immediate risk of irreparable harm to Apple; (3) the balance of hardships that would be endured by the parties if the motion were to be granted would be fair; and (4) the public interest would be best served by granting Apple’s motion for the preliminary injunction.
The Court, after carefully evaluating the claims in light of these factors, didn’t agree that such an extreme measure, a preliminary injunction, was warranted here. However, the Court did provide us with some interesting analysis about the merits of these claims and it appears as if at least some of Apple’s patent infringement claims – those relating to the iPhone design patents – may have merit. Winning this motion wasn’t ever going to be easy, and – in the opinions of some analysts who have been closely following this case – Apple’s lawyers almost pulled it off.