Samsung’s smartphone ban not likely to last

Samsung-Galaxy S II

There’s another wrinkle in the Samsung v. Apple battle that’s already provided us with a whole lot of entertaining controversy. There’s discussion afoot that Apple’s big legal victory – getting Galaxy phones banned through the European Union for copyright infringement – may be as toothless as a twenty-year-old cat.

Apple’s copyright lawsuit concerned a whole mess of things, namely physical design elements of the Galaxy phones as well as specific UI features, like the slide-to-unlock gesture. While Apple did indeed succeed in getting an injunction barring Samsung from selling Galaxy phones in the EU, most of Apple’s claims were actually thrown out in court. It seems that the court ruled Samsung only violated a single Apple patent, and avoiding infringement of that patent is only an Android update away.

Some of the most crucial aspects of the suit concerned Samsung’s physical design of the Galaxy lineup. While reworking infringing software would be a massive pain, it can at least be ported onto existed devices. But had Samsung’s phone design been ruled in violation of Apple’s patents, basically its entire stock of Galaxy phones would be immediately bricked. That’s a huge problem.

But according to OS News, corroborated by the Inquirer, the judge threw out everything design-related, citing numerous cases of prior art that predated the iPhone, including the Compaq TC1x00 and LG Prada. Additionally, the judge threw out claims over the Android’s GUI, citing the Nokia 7710 as prior art.

Apple’s claim over the swipe-to-unlock gesture was interesting because it seems like such an integral part of any smartphone. The judge said he expected the claim over that gesture would get tossed out in what’s called a ‘bottom procedure,’ which is a more in-depth case focusing more closely on a specific item. In this case, he referenced the Neonode N1m phone, which was released in 2005, as prior art.

The only patent the judge upheld, and the one thing allowing the injunction to go through, concerns the method of scrolling through photos in Android’s Gallery app. The judge did rule that Samsung’s Android 2.x devices infringe on Apple’s patent, but Android 3.0 does not. The injunction thus affects the Galaxy S, SII and Ace smartphones, but not the Galaxy Tab, which uses 3.0. The injunction won’t go into effect until mid-October. That gives Samsung plenty of time to push out an update to its smartphone lineup using a version of Android 3.0 that has changes to the Gallery, a move the company has already promised to do. So while it’s a technical win for Apple, Samsung should come out unscathed.