September 21, 2011 10:30 am

Samsung eyes iPhone 5 legal action

Samsung Electronics is considering a legal move to block sales of Apple’s long-awaited iPhone 5 in some countries as the patent battle between the two technology companies steps up a gear.

The South Korean company might try to block sales of the smartphone, which is expected to be unveiled in early October, by seeking a court injunction either in Europe or South Korea, people close to the company said.

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“The market’s speculation that Samsung is preparing a legal action to block sales of the iPhone 5 is largely true,” said a person close to the company. But he said Samsung had yet to decide in which country to file the motion.

A move by Samsung to seek a sales ban would be seen as a strong retaliation against Apple considering that the South Korean company has been mostly on the defensive with its top customer. The two groups are locked in about 20 cases of legal disputes over patents in nine countries including the US, Australia, South Korea, Japan and the UK.

Samsung declined to comment on this latest issue but said it would react more aggressively to Apple’s claim that its smartphones and tablets copied the US company’s design.

“We are preparing aggressive legal suits against Apple, shifting away from our defensive strategy. We stand a good chance of winning the cases if we use our patents related to wireless communications standards,“ said Samsung. “The wireless technologies such as the WCDMA and HSPA standards are essential for mobile devices. So they can be a big weapon for us.”

Smartphone patent wars

Patent Wars

Patent wars are raging in the smartphone industry. This interactive graphic shows the technology companies involved in patent lawsuits and licensing agreements.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.

Patent experts said Samsung, whose Galaxy devices have become big challengers to Apple’s iPhone and iPad, stood a good chance of winning a temporary sales ban for Apple’s iPhone 5. “The wireless technology patents are stronger in terms of intellectual property rights than design infringement claims. Without using Samsung’s wireless technology, it’s impossible to make smartphones with mobile telecoms functions,” said a patents lawyer in one of South Korea’s biggest law firms.

Analysts said Samsung was considering filing a motion in South Korea because it would have home advantage and be more likely to succeed, although it is a very small market for Apple. They added that the South Korean group might also file a motion in Europe because a favourable outcome for Samsung there could have a greater effect on Apple’s sales. They added Samsung was unlikely to take action in the US, Apple’s home market.

The change in Samsung’s strategy comes as Apple’s recent legal victories have disrupted the sale of Samsung’s wireless devices – such as the Galaxy tablet and various smartphones – in some countries.

A German court this month upheld a complaint by Apple that Samsung stole its design from the iPad, banning the sale of Samsung’s newest Galaxy Tab in Europe’s largest market. Samsung said it would appeal against the court’s decision. Separately, a court in the Netherlands barred Samsung from selling three smartphones that rival the iPhone for infringing Apple patents. Samsung had to delay the launch of its latest Galaxy tablet computer in Australia last month over the patent disputes with Apple.

Sales of the original iPhone were banned in South Korea for about a year and a half due to requirements that handsets in the country be based on a homegrown technology known as Wipi. However, consumer groups voiced their disapproval and suggested the government was using the measures to protect domestic handset makers, such as Samsung and LG, from the iPhone.

The country relented and sales of the iPhone were allowed to commence in late November 2009.

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