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The Samsung tablet ban: What it means and what happens next (in plain English)

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Apple (s aapl) enjoyed a triumph this week when it persuaded a federal judge to ban a tablet computer that Apple claims was “slavishly copied” from its famous iPad. Is this a game changer that will allow the iPad to dominate for a long time to come? Here’s a simple explanation of what happened and what comes next.

What is this iPad impostor and how did Apple ban it?

In 2011, Korean electronics maker Samsung began selling a device called the Galaxy 10.1, which Apple said infringed its patents. Since a patent can allow an owner to exclude others from the market, Apple sought a ban in the form of a preliminary injunction.

What do Apple’s patents cover?

Apple’s lawsuits threw everything but the kitchen sink at Samsung, but the iPad maker ultimately prevailed on a special type of a patent called a “design patent” that covers the look and feel of an invention (you can learn about Apple’s design patents here). Apple is also hitting the Samsung Galaxy with a separate suit based on conventional “utility patents,” but for now the design patents have done the trick.

I thought the judge said Apple’s design patent was invalid?

She did. In a widely reported episode last fall, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh waved both tablets in the air and said she couldn’t tell the difference — meaning that Samsung had infringed the design patent. But she also said it didn’t matter because Apple’s patent was likely to be found invalid on the grounds that it was an obvious design based on earlier tablets. This is why she refused in December to grant Apple an injunction. You can decide for yourself whether the iPad design was obvious based on the earlier tablets:

Apple appealed Koh’s conclusion that the iPad design was obvious. The appeals court sided with Apple, suggested the design was not obvious and sent the case back to Koh to decide if an injunction should be granted. This week she agreed to grant a temporary one.

So what happens now?

Koh’s temporary injunction goes into effect as soon as Apple can scrape together a $2.6 million bond. Once it does (we imagine Apple can find the money), Samsung has to pull its tablets off of store shelves.

Why does Apple have to post a bond?

Apple has to post the bond because the injunction is just preliminary — something to protect it until the case goes to a full trial and a court can decide whether or not to impose a permanent injunction. But in reality, a court only grants a preliminary injunction if a party is likely to win in the long run. And, more importantly, by the time the case gets to trial, both tablets in question will be obsolete.

Can Samsung appeal the preliminary injunction?

Yes, and it already has.  Samsung has almost no chance of winning, however, because appeals courts are very reluctant to disturb a temporary order. The company could also file for an emergency stay but that would likely fail as well.

So is this a crushing blow to Samsung’s tablet ambitions?

Here’s the catch. The temporary injunction only applies to Samsung’s 10.1 tablet which, according to my mobile expert colleagues, is already out of date and was vanishing from Best Buy(s BBY) even before the injunction. Meanwhile, Samsung is selling a new model, the Galaxy Tab 2, of its tablet for a lower price on Amazon(s AMZN) (meaning the offending 10.1 tablet is basically irrelevant). And, according to our Kevin Tofel:  “GT 2 has a visual difference: speakers around the bezel, making it look less like the iPad.”

Bottom line is that Apple won the preliminary injunction but it won’t really matter in the marketplace.

So did Apple just spend tens of millions in legal fees for nothing?

Yes and no. On the legal front, it has nothing to show but a symbolic victory — the injunction on the out-of-date Galaxy 10.1 won’t really hurt Samsung, which is free to sell its later models.

On the other hand, Apple has won a big PR victory. It can use Judge Koh’s decision to burnish its reputation as an innovator and also serve notice (yet again) to Samsung and other would-be competitors to stay away from the iPad design.

I just can’t get enough of this patent stuff. Where can I learn more?

Given the money at stake in the patent fights, some companies have stooped to paying ethically challenged bloggers who write propagandized news stories without revealing who is paying them to do so. For honest coverage, you can rely on wire services like Reuters and Bloomberg whose reporters are not paid by the companies they cover. For more in-depth coverage about patent law in general, you can read leading blogs like Patently-O or the IPKat.

(Image by Maxx-Studio via Shutterstock)

36 Responses to “The Samsung tablet ban: What it means and what happens next (in plain English)”

  1. Just a note to voice my opinion. After this suit, I believe my choice to purchase a couple I-pads has just been changed. I think I will look to another product line now. I know the three I-pads will not make a dent in the companys bottom line, but it will in mine. Thanks Apple & all the money hungry layers. ( on both sides)

  2. Quote: So did Apple just spend tens of millions in legal fees for nothing?
    I think you’re missing the point when you argue that Apple wasted any money. The loser of the trial, which will very likely be Samsung, will have to pay Apple’s legal fees. Also, depending on how many tablets Samsung actually sold (I know…), damages for the infringing product will have to be paid to Apple.

    • Tim Lane

      @scottph: No, the consumer will end up paying the legal costs. The threat of litigation affects every company in the industry, and they are not going to take these litigation costs out of their profits – the costs are passed on to the consumer.

  3. tooltym

    I’m currently in the process of obtaining a Design Patent on a disk-shaped device, that coincidently resembles a hockey puck. As soon as my patent is issued, I intend to sue the NHL, Roomba and every cosmetic company you can think of for infringing upon my unique patented shape. Thanks for leading the way, Apple!

  4. John McPherson

    Uh, where did Apple get the idea for the Mouse, GUI and event driven software?
    They STOLE it from Xerox. Or, are all of you apple fanboys and fangals not even old enough to remember the Star?

  5. I hate crApple

    I hear Apple wants to patent the alphabet so no one else can have a keyboard on their tabelt. Maybe they should focus on a less mediocre product and not using/wasting the time of the US judicial system to grab market share from superior products like the Samsung tablet.

  6. Biased

    Really if you want to get specific. Apple STOLE the design of their iPod from Samsung. The bottom line is its a bullies game. Who can spend the most money on a fancy dinner for a judge in this great non corrupt judiciary system. Sorry I don’t buy into any of the “legitimate” patent claims from any of these companies. They are all just fishing with hopes of getting lucky and the fact that apple won this makes no real difference, only shows that they have them money to push others around and even sway the opinion of our fine legal system.

  7. Tim Lane

    No one is paying me to voice my opinion on this subject. The real losers in all these patent battles are not the companies involved, but the consumers, who are paying more for ALL tech products to pay for all these meaningless lawsuits.

  8. Gnome,
    I really doubt that you have enough pull with “Your Fortune 500 Company” to make sure that Samsung products will not be used. I doubt you could even tell where Samsung products are at in “Your Company”, due to the massive amounts of items that they create. Apple has stolen many ideas from other companys them selves and are now running scared due to the death of the actual idea man. So lets sue every one out there to make as much money for them selves and there stock holders.

  9. I agree with the ideal that Apple needs competition, but I think the competition needs to come from someone who is making a product that is good on its own merit, not just good because it is copying Apple’s every move.

  10. Sridhar

    This is sheer nonsense. That means who ever has invented the first laptop should get a ban on all the other laptop makers? Are we not doing more harm than good by this approach by discouraging competition. Not good for the common man.

  11. Jared Wiltshire

    Unfortunately, the US government is supporting Apple’s anticompetitive ways once again. We have seen as of late that OEMs are moving away from Apple’s “designs” and yet are still hugely successful. This is also a ban on a tablet that is already outdated so no hard feelings for Samsung. We have also seen that Apple’s innovation has disappeared with the death of Steve Jobs RIP. Time will prove that Apple is not the creator some would believe it to be, but a big bully that is just scared of competition.

    • Robert Andrew Showalter

      Agreed on all counts. People need to not be blinded by Apple’s current “hip” status and look at the big picture. Just because they rule the market doesn’t make them best to do so.

      • thats true! Apple has been doing it too long, monopolizing the sales, and since samsung over passed them, now they sue them for patency. We consumers arent stupid not to see which is which or cant see the difference. WTF are apple thinking.

  12. Robert Andrew Showalter

    Heh, “Samsung … is free to sell its later bottles.” Phonetically close enough I guess. Anyway, sounds like Samsung will recover, but I really wish Apple would stop suing people into oblivion over perceived threats. They are the new anti-competitive company like Microsoft was in the 90s. They formed a market and they don’t want to give anyone else a real chance to make a dent in it. We NEED competitive mobile products because competition is good for everyone; lower prices, better choices. That’s capitalism. Apple needs to actually embrace what this country is built on.

  13. A PR victory? To me it just shows that Apple is playing unfairly to restrict competition and innovation in the marketplace. It’ll certainly make me think twice when considering Apple products.

  14. The Gnome

    I hope, regardless of the fine print, that this sends a message to Samsung. Let all the other legal crap die out, but the one thing that really needs to be addressed is companies like Samsung flat out copy-cat designing their devices. Innovate on your own. Copy an idea, a thought, a direction… but don’t clone equipment. Its embarrassing and makes you look stupid. I won’t buy Samsung again… ever.. and will be sure our Fortune 500 company doesn’t either. Too bad, some of their stuff is “ok”.

    • Robert Andrew Showalter

      I see this on the other side. You’re looking at a company with so much financial glut that they have more or less become the “new Microsoft.” They’re anti-competitive and domineering, and are also suing everyone who makes a competitive product. We NEED Samsungs in the market. We need people to come out with a viable iPad competitor; Samsung’s not there yet and it doesn’t seem like anyone else is, either. Google will try to be putting out their fully featured tablet for under $200, but it probably still won’t make much of a dent in Apple. I refuse to buy Apple products myself — I lump them in with Sony make ridiculous lawsuits against lesser entities over perceived threats that are likely unreal. There’s nothing really special about the iPad design that I think Apple should have such a stranglehold on it. It’s minimalistic for crying out loud!

      • “There’s nothing really special about the iPad design.”

        Nothing special, except that others tried for 10 years to sell tablets with no success. Then Apple brought out the iPad and it’s been a runaway best seller. If you’re going to refuse to buy Apple you should at least have a *little* understanding of what you’re refusing to buy…

      • ANDROID-

        I dont like apple either. It has no expandable memory cant change the battery, has to convert a lot of files. Cant send bluetooth to other devices than same apple tech, no PHONE FUNCTIONALITY and above all they are all bunch of F*&* sky pricing units. Samsung are not the only companies who uses android os. I think apple should realize that CONSUMERS ARE WISE BUYERS TOO!! We are not stupid buying apple products or samsung products that making us too confuse what too buy. These are all tech gadgets. I guess they should understand WE BUY WHAT FITS FOR US, WHAT WE NEED. NOT BECAUSE OF THE BRAND ITSELF!!! Come on why not try to go to china and see for yourself how many people cloned the Apple Os already, why dont apple sue china too for copying many of their os.

    • Oldngrumpy

      IBM, Apple and Sony are three companies that make slight variations to standards, patent them and prevent anyone from their market place. They change standards, as Apple is about to do with their iPhone docking connector (patenting the chip in the cable to the connector), and forcing the market again to re-purchase associated gadgets – except this time Apple will make money on all peripherals as well!

    • Jake Waxelbaum

      Wow somebody drank the Apple flavored kool aid. Samsung already had the tablet in market when the iPad was released, the original galaxy tab 7. Boom apple makes it 10 inches and Samsung follows their original galaxy up with a bigger version. And here we are. I will say this once: SAMSUNG DID NOT COPY APPLE. THE GALAXY TAB AND iPAD ARE TWO COMPLETELY DIFFERENT PRODUCTS AND IF YOU HAD EVEN BOTHERED TO PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF STEVE JOBS ASS FOR ONE SECOND AND COMPARED THEM SIDE TO SIDE YOU WOULD SEE HOW THEY ARE VERY MUCH DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER. Apple needs to stop going after the stuff the rest of us who have not been brainwashed into the iCult want to buy. We don’t want to buy Apple’s stuff so stop taking away the stuff the rest of us want. How does Apple’s catchphrase go? Think different….AND BE EXACTLY LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!!! Well Everyone Else DOES NOT WANT Apple products….Apple is a rotten evil company who have brainwashed you and you can’t even see how they can do no wrong. This needs Stupid Patent War needs to STOP NOW!!!!

    • {“Design patent” that covers the look and feel of an invention.} That’s the law suit! RIGHT!!!! So Apple designed the “rectangle” all by its self. Samsung better hurry up and put a patent for the “circle” & “triangle”. And like Apple has never been sued for any…..wrong…they have law suits for things that they “Copied”. Will this mean you won’t buy any Apple products? So Apple too looks stupid for being sued for copy infringement. I love how “Gnome” has convicted Samsung, when the Trial is not supposed to start until July 30th. I hope you never get jury duty, you would suck at it.
      It’s inside that make Apple so scared. The Tablet is a better product. Judging by your post, I doubt you have any influence over the Fortune 500. Apple is the Al Davis of technology. Sue, sue, sue, sue, and sue everybody. Look out Benjamin Franklin, Apples coming for you.

    • Dotse Stein

      you must be off your rockers, Apple didn’t innovate a thing. It’s all about the first person who decided to patent the expression “bless you” right after someone sneezes. The common is as common as things comes, hence its predecessors.

    • Its people like you who five Samsung a bad name. True, Apple is an innovative technology Company, except for the fact that Samsung creates more tech that everyone uses. Wondered why Samsung rarely sues Apple, because is its biggest buyer. And because of that, Apple doesn’t have to create the tech and claim it as their own. They just buy from others

    • ChickensEvil

      Nevermind that Apple ‘stole’ the name ‘iPad’ (believe what you will here) but the product was not allowed to sale in China because someone had already TM’d the name back in like 2000 (to my knowledge it had nothing to do with electronics, but thats not the point…)

      Apple has done their fair share of “stealing” things too. Heck they even hire microsoft to help them with their OS… You dont think ideas bleed over from that?

      There are only so many ways to cut a rectangle… and I dont think the consumers would like circle or trapazoid…

      Bottom line, Patents are no longer being used for their original intent, and instead are used to get the law on your side so you can go around with your corporate bullying and push people out of the market. And they are all guilty of it. Apple, Samsung, Microsoft… Its very sad…

    • Everything is a copy from something. New ideas that you think are new are just old ideas remixed. Like the person before me said ” apple has been doing it for years.”