Apple, maker of the iPad, on Thursday edged closer to clinching a German sales ban on the Galaxy Tab tablet computer made by rival Samsung when a court signalled that it saw grounds for upholding an injunction issued this month.
In a suit brought by Apple alleging that its rival stole key elements of the iPad’s design for the Galaxy Tab, the presiding judge in a German court said European Union design rights granted the US company “a medium range of protection” in such cases.
Judge Johanna Bruckner-Hoffmann said the differing designs of various manufacturers showed there were “a lot of alternative ways” to make a tablet computer. A detailed ruling by the court is scheduled for September 9.
But Ms Bruckner-Hoffmann also indicated that the court would limit any ruling to Germany and not claim jurisdiction for the EU, in effect rejecting Apple’s renewed argument that any ruling on the alleged design patent infringement cover the whole bloc.
In what is now a global intellectual property war between tablet and smartphone makers, Apple filed suit against Samsung Electronics in Düsseldorf, claiming that the South Korean company’s new flagship Galaxy Tab 10.1 copied the iPad in design and feel.
Samsung denies the accusations.
The court in Düsseldorf, northwestern Germany, at the start of August issued an injunction on sales of Galaxy Tabs in all European Union countries except in the Netherlands where Apple was fighting a separate court battle. But the German court later revised its ruling to cover only Germany.
Apple, also maker of the iPhone, has filed patent cases in various countries relating to smartphones made by Samsung and other manufacturers that use Google’s Android operating system.
But Apple on Wednesday suffered a setback before a Dutch court, which ruled that three Samsung smartphones impinged on only one of three contested iPhone patents, and found that Samsung tablet computers did not violate any intellectual property rights.
Henrik Timmann, a Samsung lawyer, said before the Düsseldorf court that the Dutch verdict proved “many design features are simply necessary” to make a tablet-style computer.
He said Apple was “frightened” of the rival product. “[The Galaxy Tab] is thinner, its technology is better … [Apple] cannot accept … that something is on the market that in many aspects is better,” Mr Timmann said.
Matthias Koch, Apple’s lawyer, rejected the argument and again called on the court to widen the sales ban across the whole EU.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is seen as the most credible alternative to the iPad, which has taken the world by storm – selling about 30m units – since its launch 18 months ago.
The two companies are fighting over patent and trademark infringement accusations and counterclaims before the US government’s International Trade Commission and in courts in the US, Australia, South Korea and Japan.
At the same time, Samsung remains one of Apple’s most important supplier of computer chips. As a result, Samsung officials are nervous about discussing the relationship with Apple, which is one of their biggest customers for memory chips as well as a competitor.
● Meanwhile on Thursday, Samsung Electronics said it was not interested in buying Hewlett-Packard’s PC business, shooting down persistent market talk that the South Korean firm may snap up the unit to become the world’s top PC maker.
HP said last week that it might spin off the world’s largest PC business, part of a wrenching series of moves away from the consumer market, including killing its new tablet.