Apple has won a rare US sales ban on Samsung’s iPad rival, the Galaxy Tab. But the move is only temporary and required a hefty financial gamble from Apple.
The ruling by a Federal court only applies to the original version of the device, known officially as the Galaxy Tab 10.1. The current edition, the confusingly-named Galaxy Tab 10.1 II, is unaffected.
The ban is part of an ongoing dispute about the look of the rival tablet devices rather than any software or other functionality. Apple’s original claim effectively said Samsung was in breach by producing a device that was a flat, black rectangle with rounded edges.
A court has now issued a preliminary opinion that the Samsung tablet is “virtually indistinguishable” from the iPad. Whether that’s something that could have reasonably been avoided, and whether the similarity is enough to cause a genuine risk of marketplace confusion remains to be debated at a full trial.
In the meantime, the court has banned Samsung from importing the device into the US, or selling it within the country. It’s also specifically said that Samsung can’t get round the ban by simply changing the color of the device.
While patent disputes are commonplace (to say the least) in the mobile tech industry these days, it’s relatively rare that a US court issues an outright sales ban. To date, injunctions have been more likely to come from the US International Trade Commission, a semi-independent government agency that has the power to block imports in intellectual property cases. Of course, an import freeze has much the same effect as a sales ban given most major tech sellers in the US have devices manufactured in Asia for cost reasons.
It’s by no means an outright victory for Apple at this stage. The judge granted the injunction only on condition that Apple pay a $2.6 million bond into court. If it later loses the case, this money will be earmarked for any compensation claim by Samsung for lost business caused by the injunction.
The injunction takes force as soon as Apple hands over the money, though Samsung has already formally confirmed it will appeal against the ruling.