May 14 (Bloomberg) -- Apple Inc., maker of the iPhone and iPad, can pursue efforts to halt sales of Samsung Electronics Co.’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer in the U.S. while a patent-infringement case is pending, a U.S. appeals court ruled.
Apple’s patent on a design of the tablet is likely to withstand validity challenges, so the trial judge should consider if it’s in the public interest to block sales until a trial can be held, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled today. The court upheld the trial judge’s rejection of a pre-trial ban on Samsung products, including its phones, based on three other Apple patents.
The Samsung dispute is the biggest front in Apple’s efforts to curtail growth of phones that run on Google Inc.’s Android operating system, the most popular platform for mobile devices. The Cupertino, California-based smartphone maker contends Samsung has copied the look and feel of the iPhone and iPad to lure away customers.
The case ruled on today is one of more than 30 filed in 10 countries between Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung and Apple. Samsung was forced to delay the release of some Galaxy devices or alter the product in Germany, the Netherlands and Australia because of the legal battle.
Apple filed another U.S. suit against Samsung in February and is asking U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to block sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Nexus phones until a trial could be held. The newer case involves patents related to Apple’s Siri digital personal assistance and slide-to-unlock feature. A hearing on that request is scheduled for June 7 in San Jose, California.
Koh said in December that Samsung had raised a substantial question of invalidity of Apple’s tablet-design patent. Samsung argued the design was an obvious variation of tablets existing as early as 1994, including one made by Hewlett-Packard Co.
The Federal Circuit said there were substantial differences between the Apple design and earlier readers, and the only comparison was that they were rectangular tablets with four evenly rounded corners and a flat back.
“Rather than looking to the ‘general concept’ of a tablet, the district court should have focused on the distinctive ‘visual appearances’ of the reference and the claimed design,” the court ruled.
Circuit Judge Kathleen O’Malley said she would have sent the case back to the lower court with orders to impose a ban on the sales of the Galaxy Tab. The majority said the judge may still side with Samsung after reviewing what’s in the public interest.
In the tablet market, Apple had 58 percent in the fourth quarter, while Android products, which include Samsung, Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Inc.’s Nook readers, had 39 percent, according to data from Boston-based researcher Strategy Analytics.
Apple said Galaxy S and Infuse phones copied two of its patented designs, and that all three products, along with the Droid Charge, infringed a patent for a function known as “bounce back.” That means that when an image is dragged past the final screen’s edge, it goes back to fill the entire screen. The Federal Circuit said Koh didn’t abuse her discretion when she refused to impose a ban on those patents until a trial can be held.
Apple contends Android devices have copied features that make the iPhone and iPad unique, and it’s filed patent-infringement suits against Android-phone makers HTC Corp. and Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc.
All three companies have filed their own patent cases against Apple, creating a global war over share of a market that researcher Gartner Inc. said increased 47 percent in the fourth quarter to 149 million units worldwide.
Apple and Samsung vie for the title of world’s largest maker of smartphones. Apple had 23.9 percent of the global market in the fourth quarter, while Samsung was No. 2 with 23.5 percent, according to data from Boston-based researcher Strategy Analytics.
The case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 12-1105, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Washington). The lower court case is Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., 11-1846, U.S. District Court for the District of California (San Jose).
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