Dutch Court: Apple Can't Corner the Rounded-Corner Market
Apple lost a round in its worldwide patent war against Samsung, with a Dutch court ruling that the Galaxy tablet does not copy the iPad's design. The back-and-forth conflict will likely continue because the ability to halt sales -- even for a short time -- is a major advantage in the competitive mobile device market said attorney Michael Feigin. "What they really care about more is sales and market share."
A Dutch court ruled this week that Samsung's Galaxy tablets do not infringe on certain Apple design patents relating to the iPad.
Apple alleged that Samsung copied the rounded edges of its iPad to create the design on the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Galaxy Tab 8.9 and Galaxy Tab 7.7. The Apple case hinged on the principle of Community Design, an intellectual property right in the European Union that says businesses cannot copy the outward appearance of each other's products.
A district court in The Hague disagreed with that claim, however, in a judgment that ruled Samsung's Galaxy tablets were not infringing on Apple's design.
The ruling goes along with a similar court decision from the UK High Court in London, which Apple appealed and lost again last October.
Apple and Samsung did not respond to our requests to comment for this story.
With battles being fought on so many fronts, it's difficult to figure out who is coming out on top more often in the patent battles between the two companies, said Ray Van Dyke, technology consultant and patent attorney in Washington, DC. The two are embroiled in other suits in about 10 countries worldwide.
"The recent setback for Apple in the Hague is offset by recent victories," Van Dyke told MacNewsWorld.
Determining a winner also depends on what either company is hoping to gain from a lawsuit, said Michael Feigin, patent and trademark attorney. In intellectual property battles between lower-profile companies, a smaller start-up might be hoping to win major damages or significant licensing fees from a corporation that infringes on its patent. Between two tech giants in a turf war for mobile device dominance, though, the stakes are different.
"Products are changing so quickly that it's difficult to keep up with design patents," Feigin told MacNewsWorld. "The real thing here isn't that they're planning to win major damages. Both the companies are loaded, so neither is going to do the other real harm with infringement damages. What they really care about more is sales and market share, and getting an injunction in."
Market Share vs. Courtroom Costs
Even an injunction that lasts just six months before an appeal goes through to stop it can wreak havoc in an industry where mobile device sales are tallied, scrutinized and highly publicized quarterly. Consumers, investors and even the judges tasked with hearing Apple and Samsung's cases might grumble at the seemingly never-ending saga, but that's a small price to pay for shutting down a rival.
"If you can stop your main competitor from selling phones for even a few months, that far outweighs any bad media or court costs in comparison," Feigin pointed out.
Apple and Samsung are, after all, only using the system for what it was designed to do, Van Dyke pointed out.
"The public should be aware that the struggle is between two competitors who employ patents as their tool of war," he observed. "The tool is not evil, and it is ignorance to attack the patent system for the actions of two players."
If there comes a time when Apple and Samsung decide they've had enough, a cross-licensing deal -- similar to ones both companies share with other competitors -- could put an end to some of the messy battles. However, with the bad blood between the two, billions at stake and market supremacy up for grabs, it's unlikely the rivals are going to stop suing anytime soon.
"Unless the two players can agree to disagree or cross-license, we shall have to accept these litigations until one side concedes," Van Dyke predicted. "With the enormous stakes, the multi-billion smart phone market, it is abundantly clear that the players will employ considerable efforts to keep their positions tenable."