A U.S. judge on Monday denied Apple Inc's request for a permanent injunction against Samsung Electronics' smartphones, depriving the iPhone maker of key leverage in the mobile patent wars.
Apple had been awarded $1.05 billion in damages in August after a U.S. jury found Samsung had copied critical features of the iPhone and iPad. The Samsung products run on the Android operating system, developed by Google.
Apple and Samsung are going toe-to-toe in a patents dispute that mirrors the struggle for industry supremacy between the two companies, which control more than half of worldwide smartphone sales.
For most of the year, Apple had been successful in its U.S. litigation campaign against Samsung. Apple convinced U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California to impose two pretrial sales bans against Samsung -- one against the Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the other against the Galaxy Nexus phone.
Apple then sought to keep up the pressure after its sweeping jury win. It asked Koh to impose a permanent sales ban against 26 mostly older Samsung phones, though any injunction could potentially have been extended to Samsung's newer Galaxy products.
Yet the jury exonerated Samsung on the patent used to ban Galaxy Tab 10.1 sales, and Koh rescinded that injunction. Then, in October, a federal appeals court reversed Koh's ban against the Nexus phone.
In her order late on Monday, Koh cited that appellate ruling as binding legal precedent, ruling that Apple had not presented enough evidence that its patented features drove consumer demand for the entire iPhone.
"The phones at issue in this case contain a broad range of features, only a small fraction of which are covered by Apple's patents," Koh wrote.
"Though Apple does have some interest in retaining certain features as exclusive to Apple," she continued, "it does not follow that entire products must be forever banned from the market because they incorporate, among their myriad features, a few narrow protected functions."
An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment on Koh's ruling, and a Samsung representative could not immediately be reached.
In a separate order on Monday, Koh rejected a bid by Samsung for a new trial based on an allegation that the jury foreman was improperly biased in favor of Apple.
The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is Apple Inc. vs. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd et al, 11-1846.