The Hague District Court today rejected Samsung's attempt to ban Apple's iPhones or iPads in the Netherlands. That's a major victory for Apple in its ongoing defense against Samsung — the court ruled that that Samsung can't ever try to collect a license on its 3G patents for the iPhone 4S and potentially other Apple devices that use Qualcomm chips. Samsung was targeting all 3G-enabled variants of the iPad and iPhone devices sold in the country, including the iPhone 3G, iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S.
Each of the four patents asserted against Apple in the case were declared essential to 3G standards and, therefore, must be licensed under fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms. This same Dutch court had partially ruled on the FRAND issue back in October, holding that Samsung was indeed obligated to license the patents to Apple under FRAND terms, which it had not done. Today's ruling didn't really change much on that front. Instead, this decision was primarily focused on whether the doctrine of patent exhaustion prohibited Samsung from obtaining a license at all. On that issue, the court ruled decisively with respect to the iPhone 4S.
The iPhone 4S uses a Qualcomm chip that already carries with it a license — Samsung previously licensed its patented 3G technology to Qualcomm a few years back. As such, Samsung is prevented from now going after Apple and attempting to double dip on licensing fees. This is a big deal because it takes licensing completely off the table for Samsung (even a FRAND license), at least for devices like the iPhone 4S that use this component. Now, for those Apple devices that don't include this particular Qualcomm chip (the iPhone 3G and 4, and iPad 1 and 2), the situation is a little more complicated.
In the past, Apple has used baseband chips from other manufacturers, like Infineon and Intel, in its products. While the court ruled that Apple had failed to prove whether or not Infineon had a relevant license from Samsung, it also played down the impact of such a license even if it did exist. Products using the older Infineon chips are quickly exiting the market, so their importance is rather academic at this point. Apple might still be required to work out a licensing deal with Samsung on those devices, but we'll have to wait and see. With respect to Intel, the court wasn't exactly sure whether Samsung had already received relevant licensing fees for the baseband chips, but gave Apple until April 11th to present further evidence on that issue. Regardless, Samsung's best remedy on those devices will also be limited to a royalty from Apple under FRAND terms. Given the ramifications of this decision, we wouldn't be at all surprised if Samsung decided to appeal. We'll keep you updated.