A new ruling just gave Apple a legal edge that could force Samsung to change its products

Tim CookGetty Images/Stephen Lam

A Federal Court of Appeals issued a ruling today stating that gives Apple a leg up against Samsung in the companies' long-running smartphone legal competition.

The court ruled in a 2-1 decision that District Judge Lucy H. Koh should have granted Apple an injunction against Samsung, banning Samsung from developing or selling any software using three of Apple's patented features.

The three features at issue are slide-to-unlock, which takes users to their home screen with a simple gesture, spelling recommendations, and the recognition of phone numbers so that users can tap a number and be brought to the dialer or address book.

Apple had been previously granted $119 million for Samsung's infringement of the same patents, but the request for injunction had been denied because the court claimed that "Apple had not shown that it would suffer irreparable harm without an injunction" and thus "Apple could not establish that monetary damages were inadequate."

The appeals court found that the lower court had made a mistake and that Apple had satisfied the legal requirements to establish "irreparable harm," though the decision grants that the evidence "may not make a strong case."

Though software patents have come under criticism in the past for stifling innovation, the ruling noted that "To develop the iPhone, Apple invested billions of dollars over several years-investment that came with significant risk. Indeed, Apple executives referred to the iPhone as a 'you bet your company' product because of the uncertainty associated with launching an untested product line in a new market." The court went on to say that the patents granted to Apple protected the inventions that were developed in the course of the massive investment.

The decision to enjoin Samsung will now be reconsidered in a federal district court in San Jose, Reuters reports.

Thursday's ruling is only the latest in a long battle (in and out of the court system) between the two tech giants that has been raging since 2011.

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