US judge halts Galaxy Tab sales

Apple’s succeeded in persuading a US judge to ban imports and sales of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.21 tablet, in the latest stage of the long-running patent dispute between the two companies.

The preliminary injunction will run until the case comes to court in California on 30 July.

“Although Samsung has a right to compete, it does not have a right to compete unfairly, by flooding the market with infringing products,” wrote US District Judge Lucy Koh, adding that the two products were virtually indistinguishable.

She’d been instructed by an appeals court to reconsider an earlier decision not to impose an injunction. Apple will now, though, be required to post a $2.6 million bond to cover damages to Samsung in the event that the injunction is later found to be inappropriate.

The patent war between the two companies has been dragging on since 2010. Apple’s already succeeded in winning injunctions against the tablet in Germany and Australia, although they were later lifted.

Samsung has already filed an appeal against the California decision.

“Samsung is still going to be able to sell 10.1-inch tablet computers in the United States. The scope of a design patent is relatively narrow (which makes it all the more embarrassing for Samsung that it infringed one at all), so Samsung can design around it, as it did in Germany, where a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1N (the redesigned version) was denied,” says patent expert Florian Mueller.

“At this stage of the lifecycle of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, it’s possible that Samsung decides to just take it from the market and focus on new product launches. But if it wanted to continue to sell it in the United States for some more time, it would simply redesign.”

Judge Koh won’t have much of a breathing space: she’s soon to rule on another motion for an injunction against Samsung, this time targeting the Galaxy Nexus smartphone. This is based on four technical patents, and could have implications for other smartphone manufacturers.