Apple’s success in delaying the sale in Europe of Samsung Electronic’s Galaxy Tab, the top competitor to its iPad, buttresses its position as the dominant tablet supplier worldwide, while shining a spotlight on the chaotic nature of intellectual property rights enforcement.
The Silicon Valley powerhouse on Tuesday won a preliminary injunction from a Dusseldorf court, barring Samsung’s sale of its Galaxy Tab 10.1 in every European Union member nation but the Netherlands.
“This is definitely going to temporarily impact the sales of the Galaxy Tab,” said Ovum principal analyst Adam Leach. While Apple now has about 90 per cent of the tablet market, Ovum had expected rival devices running on Google’s Android operating system to reach parity by 2016.
Apple has claimed that its “design rights” – the shape of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab, its user interface and even its packaging – have been copied from the iPad.
Samsung and Apple are battling over similar issues in courts in the US, Korea and Japan.
Apple filed its complaint seeking the injunction only last week and was able to win the ruling without Samsung having a chance to argue in its defence, the South Korean technology company said. Samsung says it will challenge the German court’s order.
Apple’s move for an early and continent-wide ruling is relatively unusual and carries some risks, lawyers say. If Samsung prevails in the end, it could force Apple to pay for the disruption to its advertising and sales in Europe that began last week.
“This matter has the potential to raise the profile of this kind of Europe-wide measure. This seems to increase the intensity of the battles in this sector and will attract a lot of attention,” says Thomas Graff of law firm Cleary Gottlieb.
The litigation was based on EU law rather than German national law. Apple claimed its “design rights” on the iPad were infringed and these registered rights are protected across the EU, meaning any court injunction is applied across the entire economic bloc.
Such injunctions have been rare in the past, but enforcing design rights is far easier across the EU than enforcing patents, lawyers say.
Samsung has two to four weeks to file a written statement opposing the injunction. There will then be a public hearing and the court would usually arrive at a judgment within two months. If unsuccessful at this stage, Samsung has the right to take the case to the court of appeals.
In one indication that Apple has the upper hand for the moment, Samsung offered to settle another pending case in The Hague on Wednesday, according to person briefed on those proceedings.
In the Netherlands case, the person said, Samsung indicated it was willing to negotiate a deal that would prevent it from shipping the version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 that is currently being distributed in North America and parts of Asia.
Apple said it would prefer to press ahead at trial, and the Netherlands judge made no immediate ruling.
Samsung’s defensive move in Europe echoes developments two weeks ago in Australia, where separate lawsuit alleged it had infringed a number of Apple’s patents. In that case, the Korean company agreed to submit a new version of the Tab for Apple’s inspection before it tries to put them on sale in the country.
“Samsung is disappointed with the court’s decision and we intend to act immediately to defend our intellectual property rights through the ongoing legal proceedings in Germany and will continue to actively defend these rights throughout the world,” the South Korean company said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Song Jung-a in Seoul and James Wilson in Frankfurt