German court upholds Galaxy Tab injunction, EU eyes Samsung’s patent claims

Apple (s aapl) won a small victory in Germany on Tuesday as the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court upheld its decision against Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1. The 10-inch slate is still barred from sale in the country, and the appeals court also determined that the Galaxy Tab 8.9 falls within the scope of that injunction. In the meantime, the European Union is putting Samsung’s recent patent claims under a regulatory microscope.
Samsung has already sidestepped the initial injunction against the Tab 10.1 by releasing the Tab 10.1N in the German market, which features a redesigned case that avoids infringing on Apple’s community design patent. The ruling on Tuesday was based on a violation of German unfair competition law, Florian Mueller of FOSS Patents notes, and not on the original community design the injunction was issued for.
Mueller thinks that the win in the Düsseldorf appeals court is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the ruling is obviously in Apple’s favor. On the other, it doesn’t necessarily apply to the redesigned Samsung 10-inch tablet, so there is no guarantee it will have any commercial impact for Apple. Also, the full-blown proceeding still has to happen, and that’s where the more important matter of Apple’s design patent will take place. Finally, Mueller says that in general, design-related lawsuits will probably have much less of an impact on the final outcome of the intellectual property value between the two companies than technical patent infringement claims, because they are relatively easy to work around.
In what may end up being a much more significant problem for Samsung, Tuesday also saw the announcement of a full-blown investigation of Samsung’s use of its patents, which fall under fair, reasonable and nondiscriminatory (FRAND) licensing requirements. The European Commission had this to say in its formal press release on the issue:

The European Commission has opened a formal investigation to assess whether Samsung Electronics has abusively, and in contravention of a commitment it gave to the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), used certain of its standard essential patent rights to distort competition in European mobile device markets, in breach of EU antitrust rules.

Samsung will now face a formal inquiry regarding its claims of infringement on patents deemed to be essential in the EU. The action was likely prompted by Samsung’s infringement claims against Apple, which it went after in multiple EU courts regarding patents carrying FRAND licensing requirements.