In a much anticipated judgment, Justice Annabelle Bennett of the Federal Court of Australia has granted Apple an interlocutory injunction banning the sale in Australia of the Galaxy Tab 10.1, widely seen as the closest competitor to Apple's iPad. This could sound the death knell in Australia for the current version of Samsung's flagship tablet.

A brief history

Samsung had intended to commence sale of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia around August, but pre-emptive patent infringement action by Apple (based on the configuration of the US version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1) prompted Samsung to pull the launch of the product and agree to provide an Australian version of the tablet to Apple prior to releasing it. Samsung has since returned fire, filing a cross-claim against Apple for patent infringement. More recently, Samsung made Apple an offer to settle the dispute, and enable it to sell its tablet. However, Apple, wanting to maintain the status quo, rejected the offer.

The significant threat to Apple posed by the Galaxy Tab 10.1

In considering whether to grant Apple's request for an interlocutory injunction, Justice Bennett had to consider whether Apple had a reasonable case for patent infringement (despite modifications Samsung made to its tablet to avoid infringement), and whether it would be more damaging for Samsung to be allowed to sell the Galaxy Tab 10.1 than it would be to grant the injunction. Apple had previously indicated to the Court that it was concerned that if Samsung was allowed to sell its 10.1' tablet, it would seduce customers away from Apple's iPad (and consequently, Apple's ecosystem of apps and accessories), making the damage suffered by Apple both irreparable and difficult to quantify.

Justice Bennett considered that Apple could ultimately show that the Galaxy Tab 10.1 infringed at least one of its patents. In addition, the possible damage to Apple if the iPad competitor were to be sold would be very large.

The consequences of Apple's victory

The granting of the interlocutory injunction means that Samsung will not be able to sell its Galaxy Tab 10.1 during this year's peak retail shopping season, and Samsung has previously indicated that it may not sell the device in Australia at all if the injunction was granted. Apple's win is likely to have a ripple effect, influencing the parties' approach to their legal battles in other countries, as well as possibly encouraging Apple to seek more broad-ranging injunctions against other Samsung products (such as its 7.7" tablet, which was banned from sale in Germany in September).

Is there a future in Australia for the Galaxy Tab 10.1?

A final decision on whether Samsung's 10.1" iPad competitor infringes Apple's patents (and whether Apple's products infringe the patents Samsung has asserted against it) is unlikely to be handed down until at least next year, although Apple is seeking a quick final resolution to the dispute. Depending on the precise terms of the interlocutory injunction (which are likely to be unsealed shortly), it may be possible for Samsung to alter its 10.1" tablet to avoid infringement of Apple's patents, although it will have to move very quickly if it is to capitalise on the tablet-buying momentum leading up to the holiday season.