Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, you know that Apple was awarded a bit over $1 billion in damages by a federal jury that was overseeing a massive patent infringement case against Samsung. If this is news to you, check out my imaginatively titled article “Apple Wins $1 Billion Verdict in Samsung Case” for the scoop.

Looking past the events of last week, the future is uncertain. Samsung has vowed to appeal the verdict all the way to the US Supreme Court if required, and if the company is serious about winning this case, I suspect this step will be necessary. Apple, meanwhile, has moved quickly to the real point of this trial: The company has asked the US District Court in San Jose, California, for a preliminary injunction on the sale of eight Samsung handsets -- the Galaxy S 4G, Galaxy S2 AT&T model, Galaxy S2 Skyrocket, Galaxy S2 T-Mobile model, Galaxy S2 Epic 4G, Galaxy S Showcase, Droid Charge, and Galaxy Prevail -- while it awaits a future verdict on a permanent injunction.

That’s right: Apple wants a federal court to ban the sale of Samsung devices in the United States. I guess that’s one way for Apple to overcome the huge sales gap that exists between Samsung, the number one seller of smartphones in the US and worldwide, and Apple, which is a distant number two.

Even before the verdict, Samsung was busily redesigning its new products to ensure that they don’t infringe on Apple’s patents. The recently released Note 10.1 tablet, for example, is oriented in landscape mode by default, not in portrait mode like the iPad, and it comes with a stylus. In addition, the tablet comes in two-tone color schemes that don’t directly mimic the Apple product’s sterile, museum-quality exterior.

The software is, of course, the bigger issue. Samsung’s offending smartphone and tablet hardware all run on Google’s Android OS. And although Google has assured partners that “most” of the patent infringements “don’t relate to the core Android operating system,” that’s a far cry from, “Don’t worry, you’re fully indemnified.” So the ruling has cast a decidedly uncertain pall over Android now as well. In fact, I’m confused why Apple, flush with this success, hasn’t simply sued Google next.

As I note in “Apple Wins $1 Billion Verdict in Samsung Case,” the big winners here are quite possibly Microsoft and Nokia, however, and not Apple. That’s because Apple and Microsoft previously signed a cross-licensing agreement that includes, according to an Apple executive who testified in the Samsung trial, an agreement that the two companies won’t copy each other’s products. Go figure, but the Apple-friendly tech press reported this news as “Microsoft agreed not to copy Apple’s products!” But that’s only half the story. Apple, too, has agreed not to copy Microsoft’s products.

This is an important distinction.

Most readers probably know my stance on Windows Phone in particular. Windows Phone isn’t different just to be different. It’s markedly superior than Android or iOS (iPhone/iPad) from a usability perspective. Taken cynically, you might argue that this is simply because Microsoft agreed not to copy. And fair enough. But on the flipside, the many innovations and advantages in Windows Phone can’t be copied by Apple, either. So the iPhone and iPad will always be inferior.

(Yes, yes. Life isn’t black and white, I get that. And I’m sure that Apple will one day abandon the “whack-a-mole,” one-app-at-a-time Fisher-Price-ness of iOS. But it’s not happening anytime soon, sorry: I’ve seen iOS 6.)

To put this verdict in a broader perspective, Apple can’t go after Windows Phone (or Windows 8 or Windows RT). But the company can and will continue to go after Android, either indirectly via other handset and tablet makers or -- I’m rubbing my hands together like a Bond villain here -- directly via Google. So of Microsoft’s two biggest competitors, iOS won’t be catching up in the foreseeable future and Google will be busy putting out Android fires for possibly years to come in a mad bid not to infringe on Apple patents, real or imagined.

So let me be the first from the Microsoft side of the fence to say, "Thank you, Apple." You’ve done something that Microsoft and Nokia, the world’s biggest maker of Windows Phone devices, haven’t been able to do on their own. You’ve made Windows -- Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Windows RT -- the obvious choice for both partners and customers going forward.

Seriously, thanks.