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[Comment] Samsung wins Apple court battle over Galaxy Tab sales ban

The Australian Federal Court has upheld Samsung’s appeal against a previous injunction preventing sales of its Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet in Australia. Apple has appealed the decision to the High Court, but Samsung will now be confident that it can get its tablets into retail stores in time for Christmas.

Depending on the final decision of the High Court, the removal of the injunction is a win for consumer choice in the Australian tablet market, which is currently dominated by Apple’s iPad. Samsung’s well-regarded Galaxy Tab series provides some of the leading alternatives to Apple’s iPad, and from a consumer’s point of view it’s preferable to have competition in the market, rather than in the courts.

Although it’s important that genuine innovation is protected, there has been quite heated and unresolved industry debate over the respective merits of the two sides’ arguments, which go to the heart of the way intellectual property is understood in an industry which has always been built on a mix of cooperative and competitive iteration.

Samsung is not out of the woods yet

Apple’s decision to appeal this Federal Court judgment to the High Court means Samsung is not out of the Australian scrub yet. Samsung also has separate litigation underway in Australia claiming that Apple’s iPhone infringes some of its own patents.

Apple has developed a reputation for litigiousness even in the context of an industry where patent claims and counterclaims fly thick and fast. We are unlikely to see an end to patent litigation in the mobile industry for some time, as patent portfolio wars roll on and major players squabble over caches of defensive patents from struggling competitors.

Indeed, many of Apple’s claims relate to central features of the Android operating system and user interface used by Samsung and other key manufacturers in tablet and smartphone devices. Google acquisition of patents from Motorola’s mobile devices business was clearly a bid to warn Apple off direct litigation against Android partners. In a tablet market heavily hyped as the “future of computing”, the incentive to gain an advantage through the courts is strong.

Greater differentiation is key

The next round of Samsung tablets is expected to have a more differentiated design, to avoid accusations of copying. Samsung has produced a slightly modified version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Europe to avoid similar litigation there, but this may not be enough to avoid the specific patent infringement claims made by Apple in Australia, which deal with hardware, software and user interface design elements.

The temporary ban on Galaxy Tab sales had led to grey-market imports of Galaxy Tab devices from online retailers overseas, much to the bemusement of local retailers and distributors.

Comment by Tim Renowden, Analyst at Ovum

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