As anyone who keeps an eye on the technology industry knows, patent lawsuits and disputes have become just a bit too common, and are often battles between Apple and Android device makers. Although they aren’t always the aggressor, Apple is usually the company suing someone for infringing one of their patents. Usually, these suits end in a stalemate and only manage to accumulate plenty of lawyer’s fees, but occasionally a ruling that could have some impact is passed down.
Such is the case with last Friday’s ruling by a US court, which granted Apple an injunction they requested on the Samsung Galaxy Nexus back at the beginning of this year. This comes despite the fact that it looked like the two companies were going to be able to work out their differences in April. Obviously, that never happened, and now Apple can enforce a preliminary injunction ban as soon as they post a bond of about $96 million. (This shouldn’t be a problem, considering Apple’s very deep pockets.)
The ruling comes from a case involving four patents: one involving keyboard word prediction, one involving the always problematic slide-to-unlock, one involving actionable linking (basically contextually relevant menus and actions), and one involving searching through multiple areas of a device (apps, music, web) through a single search interface. Although the court found that all four patents are likely both valid and infringed by Samsung, it is the last patent on this list that is causing the biggest problem for Google and Samsung. According to the judge, the patent on unified search covers a highly valued feature of Siri and the iPhone’s universal search, one that contributes greatly to the iPhone’s sales. Because the universal search bar is also promoted as a core feature of Android, the court decided that sales of the Galaxy Nexus could cause harm to the iPhone and its sales. Directly from the injunction order, here is some of the thought, process in the court’s own words:
The Court is persuaded by the evidence in the record that the ’604 unified searchfunctionality drives consumer demand in a way that affects substantial market share…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.
So, what does this injunction mean for Samsung and sales of the Galaxy Nexus? Well, they can appeal and potentially overturn the decision as early as next week, but the injunction could go into effect as soon as Apple puts up the money. If the injunction does go into effect, then it would probably stop sales of the Nexus at Verizon and online in the Google Play store, or at least stop imports of the device.
Either way, this won’t be good for Samsung, which is why they are surely going to appeal this decision as soon as possible. I’m not going to speculate too much on the impact of this case yet because it isn’t over, but it looks like this could end up being quite a problem for Android, too. Obviously, Google is a search company and search is a key function of Android (especially with Google Now) that probably doesn’t have an easy workaround like some of the other functions that have caused patent trouble. If this decision is upheld, it could result in not just the Galaxy Nexus being banned, but pretty much any other Android phone that includes Google search. That extreme doesn’t seem likely, but I’m still going to watch the proceedings of this case very closely.