Apple first asked for a preliminary injunction on US sales of Samsung's Galaxy Nexus devices back in February, and the court has now ruled, granting the motion and imposing a ban — at least temporarily. The Nexus is the most recent implementation of Google's pure Android experience on another manufacturer's hardware.
Targeting a core Android search feature
Reuters legal reporter Dan Levine, who was in the courtroom for the ruling, has indicated that the injunction focuses on Samsung's infringement of US patent number 8,086,604, and that the injunction can go into effect after Apple posts a bond of around $96 million. The '604 patent covers searching multiple areas for information (on a device and elsewhere) through a single search interface, and using predetermined heuristic algorithms corresponding to each search area — a lot like Apple's Siri. That's a big deal because the infringement finding is directed to core voice and search functionality within Android. And that's before considering the recent introduction of the Google Now system. Although Apple won an injunction on Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 earlier this week — also from Judge Koh — that tablet device is already obsolete and provided Apple with little more than a hollow victory. The Galaxy Nexus is a currently relevant product and this injunction is much trickier for Samsung.
Apple's original motion alleged that the Nexus devices infringed three patents in addition to the '604: US Patent Nos. 5,946,647 (actionable linking), 8,046,721 (slide-to-unlock) and 8,074,172 (touch screen word suggestion). The official court ruling isn't publicly available just yet, so we aren't exactly clear on all of the details and reasoning. In order to obtain a preliminary injunction, which is considered an extraordinary remedy in patent litigation, Apple had to prove that the asserted patents were likely infringed, likely valid, and that it would be irreparably harmed by Samsung's sales of the Galaxy Nexus. We've seen in past cases that this "irreparable harm" prong of the test has proven to be the most difficult for Apple and other companies to adequately establish.
Future ramifications for other Samsung devices, for Android in general?
It's difficult to say just how long this preliminary injunction will remain in place. If Apple continues and wins on these infringement issues at trial, the preliminary injunction could transform into a permanent injunction. However, if Samsung defeats Apple's claims in front of a jury, the injunction would end. And there's always the issue of how an injunction on a fundamental search feature like this may be used by Apple to justify future injunction requests on products like the Galaxy S III, and any other Android device manufactured by Samsung. Of course, we assume Samsung is likely to appeal this injunction in the very near future, and that could also eventually serve to modify or completely reverse today's ruling. In other words, things are far from absolute and final.
We received the following statement from a Google spokesperson:
We're disappointed with this decision, but we believe the correct result will be reached as more evidence comes to light.
While we wait on word from Samsung, Apple provided us with its standard statement for the lawsuit:
It's no coincidence that Samsung's latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging. This kind of blatant copying is wrong and, as we've said many times before, we need to protect Apple's intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.
Update: We've now had a chance to review the imposing 101 page injunction order and while there's obviously a lot going on, the core of the order is actually pretty straightforward. The court found that each of the four asserted Apple patents is likely infringed and valid, but only issued an injunction for infringement of the '604 patent. Judge Koh reasoned that unlike the other three patents, the '604 patent covered the highly valued unified search feature of Siri that contributed greatly to consumer demand for the iPhone 4S. Moreover, the court held that Android's infringing "Quick Search Box" feature was touted by Google as a "core user feature on Android" and, therefore, was also a key selling point for the Galaxy Nexus. From there the judge concluded that Apple would suffer irreparable harm in the form of significant lost market share if sales of the competitive Galaxy Nexus, and its unified search capabilities, continued:
The Court is persuaded by the evidence in the record that the '604 unified search functionality drives consumer demand in a way that affects substantial market share. Even accepting Samsung's argument that the intelligent voice-recognition aspect of Siri, as advertised, also contributes to consumer interest in the iPhone 4S, Apple has shown that the '604 Patented feature is core to Siri's functionality and is thus a but-for driver of demand for Siri. Accordingly, the Court finds that Apple has adequately established the requisite causal nexus between Samsung's alleged infringement of the '604 Patent and Apple's risk of suffering irreparable harm.