Apple has successfully won an injunction against the sale of three Galaxy S smartphones in the Netherlands - and, in practice, across the rest of Europe as well.
It’s a major blow for the company, which has today also seen a German court uphold another injunction, banning the sale of its Galaxy Tab tablet in the country after Apple said the device was too similar to the iPad.
The Galaxy S decision was made after Apple claimed a violation of Patent EP 2059868, which describes an interface for viewing and navigating photos on a smartphone.
It will, clearly, hit Samsung very hard indeed.
The company this year announced that it would no longer release smartphone sales figures - because the information might be useful to its rivals, it said, although a more likely reason is jitters over the Apple lawsuits.
But market research firm Strategy Analytics has estimated that Samsung managed to ship 19 million smartphones in the first quarter of this year, not far behind Apple itself. That’s a lot to lose.
However, the company’s rivals are unlikely to be breaking out the champagne just yet. Apple’s shown itself to have no fear of litigation, and the patented technology concerned is one that other smartphone vendors wittingly or otherwise, may be shipping too.
“In all likelihood, the winning patent is infringed by Android itself - not the operating system per se, but by one or more of the applications that ship with Android and without which the usefulness of Android would be impaired in one particular area - photo viewing,” commented patent expert Florian Mueller.
“Apple has now obtained the first enforceable court decision (out of many lawsuits going on around the world) that finds Android to infringe an Apple patent - and there will definitely be many more to come,” he added.
As it stands, Google is already facing more than 50 lawsuits worldwide relating to its Android operating system. In theory, this latest decision could lead to a massive choke on the sale of all Android phones across one of the biggest markets in the world. Google didn’t respond to requests for comment.
All is not necessarily lost, however. It should be possible to amend the software so that it doesn’t infringe the patent - all it does, after all, is describe a particular way of flipping through photos.
Even easier, perhaps, vendors could simply update their software, at least in many cases. The Dutch injunction relates to Android 2.3, with the court finding that Android 3.0 and above didn’t infringe the patent. An update could be expensive; but at least it would save us all from having to revert to tin cans and pieces of string.