Apple runs foul of UK courts, prepares to backtrack

The UK Court of Appeal has reprimanded Apple over the half hearted and sniping nature of a statement it was forced to publish, acknowledging that Samsung did not infringe on the registered design of the iPad in the UK.

In the latest development in what is now the longest running legal spat between the two tech rivals, judges ruled that the ‘corrective statement’, published last week on Apple’s UK website, was ‘non-compliant’ with the Court's order, made earlier in October.

The company was also ordered to place ads in a number of major publications including the Financial Times, The Guardian and T3 Magazine, reiterating the same message, some of which have been spotted in UK newspapers today carrying a form of the original text of the order.

However, last week’s surly five-paragraph statement has incensed the court, poking fun at Samsung, quoting judges describing the iPad as ‘cool’, and reaffirming other court verdicts that had upheld Apple’s complaints against its Korean rival.

It appears the world according to Apple simply does not wash with the UK justice system. “I’m at a loss that a company such as Apple would do this,” Judge Sir Robin Jacob told Bloomberg. “That is a plain breach of the order.”

At a hearing yesterday, Lord Justice Longmore, Lord Justice Kitchin and Sir Robin Jacob indicated their displeasure with the company’s actions, and the court has ordered Apple to change the wording of the statement within 24 hours.

Apple’s request for 14 days to make this change was met with a stern rebuff. Sir Robin Jacob said he would like to see an affidavit from the head of Apple explaining the technical difficulties that would prevent this from happening. “This is Apple,” he said. “They cannot put something on their website?”

Though Tim Cook is highly unlikely to be personally dragged into this mess, flirting with the displeasure of the Court of Appeal can be a risky business, warned Michael Gardner, Head of Intellectual Property at London law firm Wedlake Bell.

“Apple have only themselves to blame that they were ordered to publish the notice about the judgment in the first place,” he said. “It was their own actions which had convinced the Court of Appeal it was necessary to order them to put the notice on their website.

“If Apple do not get a grip they are likely to find themselves in contempt of court,” he added. “Where a contempt is committed, the Court can jail officers of a company and impose substantial fines.  It is not something to be taken lightly."

The offending statement has now been removed from the Apple UK website. And with the appearance of the print ads in UK newspapers, expect a new version more likely to please the Court in the near future. This a massive backfire for a company looking increasingly susceptible to embarrasing blunders; surely the question has to be, what the hell where they hoping to gain in the first place?

Make your own mind up. The statement Apple was required to post was very simple:  

On 9th July 2012 the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that Samsung Electronic (UK) Limited’s Galaxy Tablet Computer, namely the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Tab 8.9 and Tab 7.7 do not infringe Apple’s registered design No. 0000181607-0001. A copy of the full judgment of the High court is available on the following link www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Patents/2012/1882.html.

However, the company decided to amend the statement, adding an additional flavour of churlishness that ended up getting them in deeper trouble:

In the ruling, the judge made several important points comparing the designs of the Apple and Samsung products:

‘The extreme simplicity of the Apple design is striking. Overall it has undecorated flat surfaces with a plate of glass on the front all the way out to a very thin rim and a blank back. There is a crisp edge around the rim and a combination of curves, both at the corners and the sides. The design looks like an object the informed user would want to pick up and hold. It is an understated, smooth and simple product. It is a cool design.’

‘The informed user's overall impression of each of the Samsung Galaxy Tablets is the following. From the front they belong to the family which includes the Apple design; but the Samsung products are very thin, almost insubstantial members of that family with unusual details on the back. They do not have the same understated and extreme simplicity which is possessed by the Apple design. They are not as cool.’

That Judgement has effect throughout the European Union and was upheld by the Court of Appeal on 18 October 2012. A copy of the Court of Appeal’s judgment is available on the following link www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2012/1339.html. There is no injunction in respect of the registered design in force anywhere in Europe.

However, in a case tried in Germany regarding the same patent, the court found that Samsung engaged in unfair competition by copying the iPad design. A US jury also found Samsung guilty of infringing on Apple's design and utility patents, awarding over one billion US dollars in damages to Apple Inc. So while the UK court did not find Samsung guilty of infringement, other courts have recognised that in the course of creating its Galaxy tablet, Samsung wilfully copied Apple's far more popular iPad.”

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