EU formally investigating Samsung; Galaxy tablets blocked in Germany

Galaxy Tab 10.1

It hasn’t been a good day for Samsung in its protracted, multinational patent battle with Apple: a German court has upheld (German) an injunction barring the sale of its Galaxy Tab 10.1 and 8.9 in Germany, and the European Commission has announced it is launching a formal investigation into whether Samsung is abusing patents it pledged to 3G standards for licensing under fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

First up, a German appeals court in Düsseldorf has upheld a preliminary injunction that had been granted to Apple barring the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Germany, and confirmed the injunction also applied to the smaller Galaxy Tab 8.9. Apple had been granted a permanent injunction back in September, and the case was also the basis for Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 7.7 being pulled from the IFA trade show that same month. However, the appeals court’s decision to uphold the injunction on the tablets hinges on German competition laws, not on Apple’s complaint that Samsung’s tablets violated a Germany Community design. EU Community designs are loosely equivalent to a U.S. design patents; but failing to uphold the injunction on the basis of the Galaxy Tab designs, Samsung may have successfully sidestepped Apple’s assertion that the Galaxy Tab products are “slavish” copies of the iPad design. Moreover, while the Community design issue could be applied to the entire EU, the court’s ruling that Galaxy Tabs violate German anticompetition laws only applies to Germany: Apple isn’t likely to be able to extend that decision to other venues.

Also Samsung is technically coming out on the losing side of this ruling, the practical impact of the decision is almost non-existent. The ban applies to the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which Samsung replaced in Germany with the Galaxy Tab 10.1N. For the time being, Samsung can continue to sell the Tab 10.1N in Germany without interference.

Perhaps more troubling for Samsung, however, is an announcement from the European Commission that it is launching a formal investigation into whether Samsung is abusing patents it pledged to 3G communications standards under FRAND terms. Samsung has claimed that Apple’s iOS products infringe one more than a dozen Samsung 3G patents; two of those claims were dismissed this month by German courts with no reason given. If the European Commissions’ investigation finds that Samsung failed to honor FRAND licensing agreements, it will gut many of Samsung’s infringement claims against Apple—and could even have implications for companies like Motorola who are also claiming Apple infringes on 3G technology patents.

As always, Florian Mueller’s FOSS Patents blog contains detailed information on both developments.