Samsung Serves Apple a Pie in the Face

The Northern District Court of California on Monday overturned a sales ban against Samsung’s (SSNLF.PK) Galaxy Tab 10.1 won by Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) ahead of a month-long patent trial in which a jury found the tablet did not infringe on Apple design patents.

While Apple won $1.05 billion in damages from Samsung after the South Korean tech giant was found to have willfully infringed multiple Apple patents, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 was not one of the devices found to be in violation. Immediately after the ruling, Samsung sought to have the ban lifted, but U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh said she could not rule on the matter. Then, at the end of last month, the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals said Koh could decide whether to lift the ban.

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“On September 28, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit made a ruling, permitting the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to consider our request to lift the preliminary injunction on the GALAXY Tab 10.1,” Samsung said in a statement, adding, “We will continue to take all appropriate measures to ensure the availability of our innovative products.”

Apple filed for a preliminary injunction against Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 back in May, ahead of the trial. The dispute centered on the iPad D’889 design patent, but the jury in the case ultimately decided the tablet had not infringed, effectively invalidating their earlier ruling banning U.S. sales.

Samsung’s victory this week may only be temporary, though, as the two companies have a hearing scheduled for early December at which Apple could still win a permanent injunction against the Galaxy Tab if it prevails in its “overrule-the-jury” motion, according to FOSS Patents’ Florian Mueller.

Koh’s ruling this week is a small blow for Apple, and a small win for Samsung, which currently has an updated version of the Galaxy tablet, making the 10.1 version obsolete, and consequently, a somewhat inconsequential contributor to overall revenues. For that same reason, Apple stands to lose very little if the tablet is back on the market.

Still, in the patent litigation war, even a small battle won or lost by the some of the world’s biggest tech names holds significance, and after Apple shares took a beating on Monday as a result of CEO Tim Cook’s apologizing for the company’s lackluster map app, investors will be keenly watching for further signs that Apple’s days on top may be numbered. And a loss to Samsung, however small, will be filed away as evidence that Apple may not be indestructible after all.

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