Apple Blocks Sales of Samsung Tablets in EU

Apple Inc. scored a major victory on Tuesday when a German court granted the company a preliminary injunction that blocks Samsung Electronics from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the entire European Union, excluding the Netherlands.

A district court in Dusseldorf, Germany, granted the preliminary injunction against the sale of the Korean company's Galaxy Tab 10.1 throughout most of the EU.

Apple claims in its lawsuit against Samsung Electronics that the Galaxy line of mobile phones and tablets “slavishly” copied the iPhone and iPad.

The Galaxy Tab 10.1, which uses Google’s Android operating system, was recently launched in Europe and is in the early stages of being sold worldwide. Many considered the device the most promising competitor to Apple’s iPad.

Apple and Samsung have been in a global patent infringement battle over smartphones and tablets since April. Apple has already succeeded in delaying the Australian launch of the Galaxy tablet, based on a separate lawsuit that claimed the Korean company infringed numerous Apple patents.

The injunction issued by the German court was based on a design intellectual property right and has nothing to do with hardware or software patents. Essentially, the case deals with whether the appearance of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 is too similar to Apple's iPad.

In the suit, Apple also alleges that Samsung infringed a European Community design on the iPad (Community design no. 000181607-0001) and also cites unfair competition grounds, claiming the Galaxy Tab is an iPad imitation.

“It’s no coincidence that Samsung’s latest products look a lot like the iPhone and iPad, from the shape of the hardware to the user interface and even the packaging,” said Apple’s London-based spokesman Adam Howorth at the time the suit was filed. “This kind of blatant copying is wrong, and we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.”

Since a European agency issued the design registration, the injunction can be applied throughout the European Union, which means Apple does not have to file separate suits in each country.

Samsung is not pleased with the German court’s decision. The company claims that they were never afforded an opportunity to state its case and the injunction was ordered without a hearing.

Apple has also filed suits against Samsung in the U.S. and other foreign countries and has initiated legal action in the Netherlands as well. However, Samsung is not backing down without a fight- the company plans to immediately challenge the court injunction.

“We will rigorously defend our position,” Younghee Lee, senior vice president of global marketing at Samsung’s mobile business, told Reuters.

According to Lee, the company will launch an altered version of the tablet in Australia next month.

“We will take all necessary measures to ensure Samsung’s innovative mobile communications devices are available to customers in Europe and around the world,” Samsung spokesman Kim Titus said.

Once the altered Galaxy tablet is launched, the court will schedule a hearing on the case, said a judge at the Duesseldorf court.

The patent battle has the potential to cripple Samsung, according to Brian White, an analyst with Ticonderoga.

“Samsung is one of the few OEMs in the world with ability to enjoy success in both the smartphone and tablet markets,” said White in a note to clients. “However, if Samsung is violating Apple’s IP rights, we believe Apple could enjoy even further success in these markets in the coming years.”

Samsung is still allowed to sell products already distributed before the August 9 order.

Some in the industry are concerned that the court’s decision provides a slippery slope which could allow Apple to block all tablets, irrespective of the operating system or maker.