Will Apple Win the Patent War Against Samsung?

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Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) just filed an injunction against Samsung to prevent the company from selling several products in an attempt to protect themselves from future infringement. Here's the catch: the products that are the subject of the motion aren't even for sale anymore. Sounds crazy, but actually, this falls right in line with what the company has done before to protect its patents.

Source: Flickr

To get you up to speed, let's review: Apple was originally denied an injunction against Samsung by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh. That same case hit the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ruled the previous judge made a mistake.

Cut to the current situation where Apple has asked for a hearing on the motion on or around Jan. 30. What's interesting to note is an injunction can only be passed if it won't harm the public interest, and since Samsung no longer sells the nearly two dozen products at the heart of the issue, it literally can't harm the public. So, we win, I guess? Consumers won't notice a sudden lack of Samsung products available, which is good news for those who love their smartphones. 

But that doesn't mean such an injunction wouldn't prevent Apple putting the kibosh on future Samsung products if they deemed them to be "not colorably different" from Apple's lineup. 

Let's make this a bit clearer. Samsung had products in the past that Apple thought were too similar to theirs. Apple tries to get an injunction and fails. Court says original ruling was wrong and leaves Apple open to filing another injunction on those products, which are no longer relevant because they're no longer available. But having such an injunction approved would set a precedent, which could come in handy if Samsung comes out with anything else Apple thinks hits too close to home.

What makes this whole matter confusing is the emphasis on the products that aren't available anymore, rather than the patents associated with those products. You see, if Apple gets its injunction, that means the patents in question will be upheld in Apple's favor, meaning Samsung's offerings might get smacked down if there's even a whisper of potential infringement. 

There are a few potential outcomes here:

  • The motion is passed. Apple gets its injunction and Samsung will have to pay extra special attention to ensure its new products don't infringe on Apple's patents. Apple will be watching Samsung like a hawk to make sure of the same. It's likely Apple will tie up new Samsung products in court in this scenario, leaving the latter facing huge obstacles in the smartphone market from here on out. Apple is the clear winner here but the consumer loses. The smartphone market needs healthy competition. Patent infringement isn't cool, but so is unnecessary litigation.
  • The motion is denied. Nothing changes. Apple goes back to looking for new ways to edge Samsung out of the smartphone market and Samsung continues to use multitouch. This consumer keeps her options open. 
  • Samsung tries its own hand at filing a motion against Apple. Probably won't hold up since Apple was the first to market with a touchscreen phone. And since it was already found that Samsung infringed on Apple's patents with no-longer-available devices like the Galaxy Tab, the former does have a track record for being the copier, not the one being copied. 

No matter what happens, none of these outcomes will have that much of an immediate effect on consumers. However, a second patent infringement lawsuit lined up for the spring of 2014 might just affect consumers and Samsung phones that are available right now.

Get the popcorn ready.

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Brenda Barron

Brenda Barron offers insights and analysis of the latest news in The Business at The Motley Fool. You can follow her on Twitter @digitalinkwell.

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