By Bob Duncan

Samsung has won the latest battle in its patent war with rival technology giant Apple after a Tokyo court ruled in favour of the South Korean company.

The Japanese case was the latest of several lawsuits filed around the world involving the two tech giants fighting it out over whether Samsung smartphones, which rely on the Google Android operating system, have illegally used any of Apple’s designs, ideas or technology.

Judge Tamotsu Shoji took just minutes to reach his decision.  He said he did not believe Samsung’s technology (which allows media players and personal computers to share music files) and other content infringed on Apple patents.

The South Korean firm welcomed the ruling, saying it confirmed their “long-held position”.

This latest ruling is useful to Samsung as it protects the firm’s reputation in the lucrative Japanese market.  However, it is dwarfed by last week’s ruling in a California court which saw Samsung being forced to pay over $1 billion to rival Apple in damages for design infringements.

Last week the jury in a California court found that Samsung had intentionally infringed on 6 out of 7 patents, including software features like double-tap zooming and scrolling, and that many Samsung devices had also infringed on hardware style or icon setup patents.  Samsung’s counter claims were rejected.

The ruling covered a large number of Samsung smartphones, all of which use Google’s Android operating system, including the popular Nexus S 4G and S II.  However, the jury ruled that Samsung’s Galaxy Tab tablets did not infringe any of Apple’s design patents for the iPad, focussing the main impact of the verdict on the smartphone market.

And in another case just days before, a South Korean court found that both parties had infringed on each other’s patents – Samsung was ordered to pay $33,300 for infringing two of the intellectual property rights for Apple’s iPhone and iPad, while Apple was found to have infringed Samsung’s Wi-Fi technology and ordered to pay $22,000 in damages.

In a statement released by Samsung after the Tokyo decision, it said: “We have been strongly appealing that our products do not infringe the patents of Apple U.S. and its completely different technology.  The verdict recognises the lawfulness of our company.  We think it is very appropriate.”

“We will continue to offer highly innovative products to consumers, and continue our contributions toward the mobile industry’s development,” the company added.

Apple products are extremely popular among Japanese consumers, but major Japanese carriers sell Samsung smartphones as well.  Japanese electronics maker Sony also makes smartphones similar to Samsung’s, using Android technology.

Samsung has sold more than 50 million Galaxy S and Galaxy S2 smartphones around the world.  The legal battle also involves Samsung’s Tab device, which Apple claims infringes on patents related to the iPad tablet.

Seo Won-seok, an analyst at Seoul-based Korea Investment & Securities, said the Tokyo verdict showed that the various cases may not be affected by Apple’s major victory in California.

“The favourable ruling for Samsung convinces me that lawsuits in other countries may play out differently from the one in the US,” he said.

On 6 December, US District Judge Lucy Koh, who presided over the initial US trial, will hear Apple’s plea for an injunction against the Samsung phones, although this does not include the most recent Samsung phone to hit the market, the Galaxy S3.

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