By IAN SHERR
Samsung Electronics Co. suffered a second legal setback at the hands of a California judge, who issued a preliminary injunction Friday against one of its flagship smartphones at the request of Apple Inc.
The order, which bans Samsung from selling or importing the Galaxy Nexus smartphone into the U.S., marks another win for Apple in its legal battles with the South Korean handset giant.
Samsung, which released the Galaxy Nexus in the U.S. in December, doesn’t disclose sales of its handsets. But Apple, in earlier court documents, said the Galaxy Nexus has been characterized as “the most credible competitor to the iPhone so far,” posing a threat to the Cupertino, Calif., company’s market share.
Apple, which has been waging legal warfare with Samsung and other smartphone rivals in courts in multiple countries, on June 26 won a preliminary injunction against Samsung’s “Galaxy Tab 10.1″ tablet. Both products use versions of Google Inc.’s Android operating system.
The rulings, in federal court in San Jose, Calif., are notable because judges are often reluctant to grant injunctions in patent cases until after formal trials—a process that can drag on for years.
But U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, in a 101-page ruling, wrote that Apple had made a strong case that Samsung was infringing its patents. She also concluded that Apple would suffer “irreparable harm” if an injunction weren’t issued, a key legal test in such cases. She based that conclusion on factors that include sales data from the companies—redacted in her ruling—and indications of the importance of the patented technology.
Judge Koh ruled that Samsung had infringed an Apple patent covering technology for searching multiple databases-—a function found in Apple’s “Siri” voice-automated assistant program used on the iPhone 4S. Apple has marketed Siri as a marquee feature of the device since its launch in October.
According to the court document, Samsung had argued that the patent was “a small part” of the overall product. Judge Koh disagreed, saying it was not a minor feature, “but rather a substantial driver of consumer demand.”
She also concluded that Samsung infringed an Apple search patent with the “Google Quick Search Box,” which comes as a standard feature Google has offered for devices running Android since 2009. And though Samsung tried to play down the importance of the Quick Search Box, Judge Koh noted that Google’s own documents said “search is a core user feature on Android.” In addition, Judge Koh wrote, the Quick Search Box has a voice search capability.
“Samsung is disappointed, as the court’s decision will restrict U.S. consumer choice in the smartphone market,” a Samsung spokesman said. “We will take all available measures, including legal action, to ensure the Galaxy Nexus remains available to consumers.”
An Apple spokeswoman reiterated the company’s statement that Samsung had copied its products. “We need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas,” she added.
In the tablet case, Judge Koh cited a seven-year-old Apple patent that describes the front, back and sides of a device that looks like the iPad tablet. Apple released its iPad tablet two years ago. Samsung has appealed her ruling.
Brian Love, a professor at Stanford Law School who studies patent litigation, said injunctions are rare enough that most patent plaintiffs have stopped requesting them. He noted that patent-rich companies, after suing each other, usually wind up settling cases out of court.
But now that Apple has won two injunctions in a week against two separate Samsung products, Mr. Love said it could open the door to further injunctions in other cases. “It could be persuasive to other judges,” he said.
The injunction will go into effect after Apple delivers a bond of about $ 95.6 million, which would cover any damages Samsung would suffer if the court later finds that the Galaxy Nexus phone didn’t infringe Apple’s patents. Apple posted the required bond for the injunction against Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 the day after the injunction was handed down.
Write to Ian Sherr at email@example.com