Apple has just lost a number of key patent lawsuits in the United Kingdom against its Android competitors Samsung and HTC. Last week Apple had three of its most cherished patents overturned in the UK after a High Court judge deemed them to be too obvious. The patents related to slide-to-unlock, multitouch, SMS character sets and a photo management system all used by iOS.
Apple has long accused Google of copying many of these features with its Android operating system, and has launched a barrage of court cases against manufacturers who have adopted the Google OS. The Judge in the HTC case decided that due to the obvious nature of slide-to-unlock and multitouch, and the fact that they would have been a natural progression for anyone using touchscreen devices, the patents covering them are no longer valid within the UK and HTC, as well as Apple’s other Android competitors, are now free to use these features with impunity in the UK.
Similar patents are held by Apple in the US, Germany and the Netherlands, where Apple is also embroiled in patent lawsuits with Samsung, HTC and Motorola. While three of the patents were declared invalid in the UK, the fourth was found to be valid, but the judge concluded that HTC had not infringed upon it.
If the loss of these cherished patents in the UK wasn’t bad enough, several days later Apple also lost a patent lawsuit against its most hated Android competitor: Samsung. While HTC had been accused of copying a number of software and hardware features by adopting Google Android, Samsung had been accused of directly stealing Apple’s designs and trade dress for its Galaxy range of products.
The confrontation began in 2010 when Samsung released the original Galaxy S smartphone. Apple and its CEO Steve Jobs accused Samsung of “ripping off” the iPhone by designing the Galaxy S to be similar in physical appearance, and by modifying its TouchWiz interface to more closely resemble iOS. The problem here was not with the use of multitouch or slide-to-unlock, but that Apple believed Samsung had deliberately set out to confuse consumers by producing devices that were hard to differentiate from Apple’s popular devices: in effect, making deceptive sales by riding on Apple’s success.
Apple had accused Samsung of specifically copying the iPhone’s curved corners, icon layout, thin design and minimalist display on its Galaxy S, Galaxy S2 and Galaxy Ace smartphones and on its Galaxy Tab. In this week’s legal victory for Samsung, the UK High Court Judge threw out Apple’s complaint, citing over 50 examples of prior art for the iPad design and claiming that the iPad actually showed a lack of original design. The judge also decided that the back of the Galaxy Tab showed distinct differentiation from the iPad and that the Samsung and Apple devices could easily be distinguished.
Although this is a serious setback for Apple in the UK, it has been enjoying victories in similar lawsuits in other markets. It has recently had HTC devices pulled from sale in the US, and had the Galaxy Nexus banned in the USA for use of a unified search interface, for which Apple holds a patent. Samsung and Google have managed to get around this injunction by issuing out a software update to remove the feature, even though plenty of examples of prior art also exist for this feature.
Patent War Not Ending Any Time Soon
This patent war between Apple and its Android competition has been raging for more than 2 years, and shows no signs of letting up any time soon. This is despite the majority of consumer growing tired of the whole charade, and even judges now appearing to yawn at each new case. The High Court judge in the recent Galaxy Tab lawsuit in the UK took a novel approach of trying to nip this patent war in the bud by claiming that the Galaxy Tab couldn’t possibly be mistaken for an iPad, because the Samsung device was nowhere near as “cool” as Apple’s products. Apple has 21 days to contest the verdict, but doing so would imply that they believe Samsung’s devices are indeed as cool as their own.
The UN is also planning to hold an international conference in the coming months in an attempt to stop the major industry giants from further patent battles, although analysts are sceptical of how effective this will be.