In the latest installment of Legal Clash of the Tech Titans, Apple has won a home-turf victory over South Korea-based Samsung, convincing a California judge to ban the sale of the Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the U.S.
Apple claims the Tab, the strongest rival of its iPad in the still-fledgling tablet market, infringed on its patent by making a device that is too similar. In revisiting an earlier ruling as instructed by a higher appeals court, Judge Lucy Koh of U.S. District Court in San Jose ruled on Tuesday that, "Although Samsung has a right to compete, it does not have a right to compete unfairly, by flooding the market with infringing products," according to press reports.
Rivals Slowly Gaining
Koh is the same judge presiding over a class-action suit brought by users of Facebook over sponsored messages that use their likenesses. A proposed settlement in that case was reached last week. Another federal court in California recently heard the patent and copyright infringement case against Google brought by software giant Oracle.
The injunction against Samsung will apply only to the 10.1-inch Tab model -- the closest to the iPad -- and will not affect inventory already in stores. It is also dependent on Apple posting a $2.6 million bond as a hedge in case the ruling is overturned, to cover Samsung losses, Reuters said.
Though Apple is far and away the leader of the tablet market, analysts expect that dominance to erode in the next few years. Gartner, which estimated the iPad had an 83.9 percent share in 2010, projects a 63.5 percent share this year, down to 47.1 percent in 2015, with Android-based tablets, including Samsung's, gaining from a measly 14.2 percent in 2010 to 38.6 percent, leaving Apple still at the top but making less money from tablets.
Lawsuits could be one way to try to stem that tide.
But tablets expert Jeff Orr of ABI Research said this victory could be short-lived, even if the injunction is upheld on appeal.
"This specific patent in question had a similar outcome in German courts, which Samsung has already overcome with modifications to its product design," said Orr, who added that Apple has reason to worry about the Tab.
"In the U.S., based on [first-quarter] 2012 shipments, Samsung is the strongest iPad competitor. For the previous quarter, Amazon's Kindle Fire was the strongest to iPad in terms of shipment volume."
Another analyst, Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group, said the ruling seems to recognize that the Tab has been riding on the iPad's coattails.
"Clearly the entire platform was modeled after Apple and largely rides on the marketing efforts surrounding the iPad," he said. "In short it looks, feels, and acts like a clone or copy of the iPad in market and that's pretty much why it is selling so well."
Enderle said that while it is possible to distinguish one tablet from the other, "it is also clear that the Samsung Galaxy Tablet is a clone, it looks very much like it came from Apple, so I do agree with the judge on that aspect."