The ongoing saga between Apple(s aapl) and Samsung over the latter’s Galaxy 10.1 tablets took another twist this week as US District Judge Lucy Koh refused for now to grant a preliminary injunction banning the devices.
The companies are tangled in complicated legal proceedings over whether the Galaxy infringes design patents related to Apple’s iPad. Koh’s new ruling, first reported by Bloomberg, said that Apple’s latest request for a ban was premature because an appeals court had not formally issued a mandate for her to reconsider.
This week’s ruling grows out of a small victory for Apple from May 14 in which the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that Koh’s analysis of one of the design patents was flawed. In particular, it questioned Koh’s conclusion that the iPad design was obvious in light of a tablet prototype from 1994. You can decide for yourself (the design described in the Apple patent is shown on the left):
The appeals court also ruled that Koh should have considered the public interest and “the balance of hardships” before refusing Apple’s request for a preliminary injunction. It sent the case back to Koh for her to try again. In her ruling this week, however, she ruled that Apple had come back too soon. This will likely kick her ruling on the substance of the matter by a matter of months.
What it means in the bigger picture
The biggest upshot of Koh’s ruling is that it buys more time for Samsung to familiarize consumers with its product in the marketplace and to prepare a work-around if Koh should decide to grant a temporary injunction over the design.
There is, of course, no guarantee that Koh will grant the temporary injunction. While the appeals court has asked her to reconsider one element of her ruling, she still has room to deny Apple on other grounds.
If Apple fails to get a temporary injunction, it can still push on and seek a permanent one. The reality, however, is that the tablet market will already have advanced several cycles by that time so that even if Apple can get a permanent ban, the order may not mean anything by that point.
But even if Apple’s tablet lawsuit fails, it may achieve a larger strategic goal of persuading Samsung and other would-be iPad competitors to take more care in differentiating their designs.