Updated: In Samsung v. Apple, Are Injunctions A Viable Nuclear Option?

Two more advances in the ongoing, international fight between Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Android tablet maker Samsung over alleged patent violations, this time in France and Australia, plus one more appeal from Apple in the case being heard in a U.S. district court in California. With no obvious overall “winner” in the dispute, the injunction doesn’t seem to be working out as the nuclear option that Apple and Samsung had hoped it to be, as calls for sales bans continue to be denied to both parties. That’s a win for the consumer.
Update: Although injunctions are getting denied in Apple v. Samsung, we might see one come into effect in a case between Apple and Motorola (NYSE: MMI) in Germany. A court this morning ruled in Motorola’s favor for a preliminary injunction on European sales of all of Apple’s cellular-enabled mobile devices.

The decision in a Mannheim, Germany court was first reported by patent blogger Florian Mueller. It is the same case for which Apple requested a €2 billion bond in the event the decision got reversed. (It was only granted a €100 million one in the end, though.) Apple and Motorola have other cases against each other still outstanding as well, and Apple is almost certain to appeal this one if it doesn’t find a way to remove the offending item in question (a “method for performing a countdown function during a mobile-originated transfer for a [general] packet radio system”; GPRS is the data standard for pre-3G GSM networks).

In France, Samsung has been denied its request to a French court for a ban on Apple’s newest handset, the iPhone 4s, over patent violations concerning the wireless radio technology that is in the device, with the judge deciding that the request was “out of proportion” according to this Reuters article.

Samsung had originally filed its request for the device injunction back in October, literally a day after the device had been announced. At the time, Samsung had also filed injunctions in Italy, as well as in Japan — although it has withdrawn an injunction request it had made in its home market of Korea. We are still waiting to hear decisions on the Japanese and Italian cases.

Those denials to Samsung must surely smart, considering how well Apple’s new device is selling. Apple has been reporting record sales for the iPhone 4S, and some analysts are raising their quarterly forecasts on the back of others corroborating Apple’s own reports.

But it’s not all good news for Apple. Over in Australia, Apple has been denied its stay on an original decision for an injunction on the Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet — a decision that Samsung had appealed successfully after the appeals judges decided that the Korean device giant had been treated unfairly when the first case went in Apple’s favor. The two are locked in a protracted suit and countersuit in the country, with the actual cases scheduled to be heard in the new year.

This is the second injunction setback for Apple in the space of a week: in a U.S. District Court in California, Judge Lucy Koh denied Apple’s motion to ban sales of Samsung’s tablet, after she decided an injunction would have a meaningful enough impact on Apple’s own device sales. (Indeed the Galaxy Tab has not been the major competitive force that some had thought or hoped it would be.)

The story doesn’t end there, though: Apple is now appealing that ruling, as it did in Australia, according to documents obtained by Mueller.

While these incremental advances are not obviously all going in favor of one side or the other, there is a recurring theme. Injunctions have not been as easy to come by as the companies would have thought: Apple had an early win in its fight against Samsung in Germany, where a tablet injunction is still being upheld in that country — although even in that case Samsung managed to have the ban greatly reduced, since it had originally been intended for almost all of Europe.

Even in cases where there have been injunctions, it’s arguable whether they have made much of a difference. Samsung has been having trouble shifting its Galaxy Tab 10.1, whether or not the courts are saying they can sell it or not.

With the potential still to reap lucrative licensing deals depending on the outcome of these cases, a major incentive remains for Apple and Samsung to press on with their fights. But with at least some of the power of injunctions diffused, perhaps this is a signal from the courts that they and the power of patents will not fall over like pawns in these companies’ wider chess games to master the mobile marketplace.