Friday, May 4, 2012

Mannheim stays Apple-Samsung lawsuit over photo gallery patent, postpones decision on pinch-to-zoom

This morning, the Mannheim Regional Court stayed Apple's German lawsuit against Samsung over the photo gallery page-flipping patent (EP2059868 on a "portable electronic device for photo management") pending the resolution of a parallel nullity (invalidation) proceeding at the Federal Patent Court. I attended the announcement made by Judge Andreas Voss ("Voß" if not transcribed).

German regional courts stay patent infringement lawsuits only if a defendant shows a high probability (80%+) of the patent being invalidated.

Interestingly, this is a patent that Apple successfully enforced in the Netherlands last summer and in Munich (against Motorola) in March. While both Samsung and Motorola have been able to work around those rulings by settling for a less convenient photo gallery page-flipping solution, a win in Germany would still be of some tactical value to Apple (and entitle it to damages for past infringement, which is, however, a less than secondary consideration in the dispute between the number one and the number two in this industry). Basically, every successful enforcement helps to draw a line in the sand that restricts Google's ability to imitate Apple's user interface and functionality.

Obviously, device makers always deny that their workarounds or throwouts have any negative effects. No one will say that his products just got worse. But most of the time, that's what happens. And even in cases in which reasonable people can disagree over whether a workaround constitutes a degradation, an equally good replacement or an improvement, there's always significant value to Apple in being distinguishable. "Think different."

All of these Apple patent lawsuits are increasingly making (and maintaining) a difference. However, since those patents aren't standard-essential, they don't have the one-bullet-to-kill effect touted by Motorola.

The Mannheim court had originally scheduled another Apple v. Samsung decision for this morning, but due to internal delays, a decision (which may very well be another order to stay) on "pinch to zoom" (one of the gestures covered by German Utility Model ("Gebrauchsmuster") No. DE 21 2008 000 001) was postponed by a week until Friday, May 11, 2012. On that day, the court also plans to hand down a decision on Motorola's push notification lawsuit against Microsoft.

Other German Apple-Samsung decisions

The first German court ruling involving Apple and Samsung that made headline news was the design-right-based injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1 the Düsseldorf Regional Court granted in early August 2011.

But in Germany, Samsung was first to sue Apple back in April 2011 over three standard-essential patents, in response to an Apple lawsuit in the Northern District of California. Those three Samsung v. Apple cases have already been adjudicated by the Mannheim court (all three of them were tossed because Samsung failed to prove its infringement allegations) and appealed to the Karlsruhe Higher Regional Court.

In February, the Munich I Regional Court denied Apple a preliminary injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1N and the Galaxy Nexus over a touchscreen scrolling/zooming patent. Apple later asserted this patent in Mannheim.

In March, the Mannheim Regional Court stayed an Apple lawsuit against Samsung over a slide-to-unlock utility model. Unlike patents, utility models don't enjoy a presumption of validity, making it much easier to get lawsuits over that kind of intellectual property right stayed.

Also in March, the Mannheim court threw out an Apple lawsuit over a slide-to-unlock patent.

Today's decision included, Apple's German lawsuits against Samsung over technical inventions (as opposed to designs) have resulted in two stays, one denial of a preliminary injunction, and one dismissal.

Since the drop-out rate of those two parties' claims against each other is extremely high, there will be no immediate pressure to settle when the companies' CEOs and chief lawyers meet in San Francisco later this month for court-moderated settlement talks.

The parties have brought more than 50 lawsuits against each other in 10 countries.

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