Okay, I didn’t see this one coming. German press agency dpa is reporting that Apple has been granted a preliminary injunction barring Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 from being distributed in the entire European Union except for The Netherlands, over a design patent. Competition at its finest, people, and this is clearly in the interest of consumers. I’m ashamed to be European. Updates in the article now. This iterative update process isn’t really working when you’ve got a gazillion of them.
Instant update: Two ‘short hearings’ will take place this week in The Hague, in which Apple demands an injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (Wednesday) and the Galaxy S smartphones (Thursday). I will try to report on the outcomes of these two cases as quickly as possible. I’m hoping my legal system isn’t as idiotic as that of Duesseldorf. At the same time, Samsung has filed for a ‘bottom procedure’ in The Netherlands against Apple, which is a lengthy court case where all details will be taken into account (as opposed to a short hearing which is just to get a quick, temporary ruling).
Update II: As Mueller points out in an updated version of his post, this isn’t about patents. This injunction is based on a Community Design, which is a sort of EU-wide trademark. The Community Design is literally just that – a few drawings of a generic device. These drawings (Community Design 000181607-0001) could fit basically anything to my untrained eye, but alas.
Update III: From the Community Design directive: “A Community design shall not subsist in features of appearance of a product which are solely dictated by its technical function.” Really now.
Update IV: I’m browsing though Apple’s Community Designs (enter ‘Apple’ at owner), and they have at least a thousand of them – the search results are limited to 1000. This is absolutely idiotic – while some of them are clearly Apple products, most of them are just generic designs, and in fact, Apple seems to iterate their Community Designs – starting with basic shapes, moving all the way up to photos of actual devices, with each iteration being a separate, enforceable filing! Many are truly and utterly generic – take a look at this one, or this, or this (a stretched black rectangle ffs!), or this (a folder icon!). Apple can sue pretty much ANY product maker with this. This is like a slumbering and unknown version of the USPTO!
Update V: It gets worse. Fill in any company’s name. Hilarity will ensue.
Update VI: Samsung has responded. It’s crazy. Samsung was not notified about any of this, and consequently, did not even have the opportunity to defend itself. The judge just granted this injuction when Apple asked for it – no questions asked. What the heck is going on here?!
The preliminary injunction was granted by the district court of DÃ¼sseldorf in Germany, which, according to Florian Mueller, is the German equivalent of the East District Court in Texas. Due to the workings of European law, this injunction applies to the entire EU – except for The Netherlands, which has a different set of competition laws than Germany. However, Apple filed a similar suit in The Netherlands.
This is clearly the biggest win for Apple so far. It is also a great loss for consumers in Europe, since choice on the market place has just been reduced considerably. I guess this is the future Apple wants – instead of competing through the market place, Cupertino is placing its bets on the courts, because it knows that – just like with phones – it won’t be able to keep up with the Android world in tablets.
It’s also interesting to learn that a ruling on competition law by a local judge in Germany automatically applies to the rest of the EU as well. This is certainly news to me. We have European courts, but this is a local German court forcing its way upon the rest of the EU. Kind of funny how such business-friendly concepts automatically apply EU-wide, but more important matters like gay marriage and sane drug laws never apply EU-wide. I guess there’s no company lobbying going on for those things.
Does this mean EU citizens now get to vote in the German elections as well?
In any case, Samsung can appeal this decision, but it will be heard by the same judge, and in about four weeks at the soonest. The injunction will stand in the mean time. As you can imagine, this is a pretty big hit against Samsung. I wonder what’s going to happen with any possible pre-orders – the Galaxy Tab 10.1 is supposed to become available mid-August.
Apple has already made a response, and it’s the usual hypocritical nonsense about copying and stealing – which, as we all know, Apple never does. “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,” an Apple spokesperson told The Telegraph, “This kind of blatant copying is wrong, and we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.”
My blood is boiling over this, I can assure you. I believe in a competitive market where companies win customers over by making good products, not by going through the court system. The kind of hypocrisy displayed by Apple is very infuriating to anyone with any historical sense, but alas, in today’s technology world, history is no longer important.
Outlawed products are often made even more popular by their illegal status (think prohibition). Consumers love this sort of thing. Apple may be thinking that banning Android tablets will force consumers to buy iPads but that flies in the face of humanity’s naturally defiant spirit. Expect to see gray market imports flooding Europe soon.