A German court on Friday banned the sale of Samsung’s newest Galaxy Tab tablet computer in Europe’s largest market as it upheld a complaint by Apple that its South Korean rival lifted the design from its iPad.
The court in Düsseldorf, north western Germany, ruled that “informed customers” were of the “overall impression” that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 was meant to look like the minimalist iPad even though other designs were possible.
The ruling by judge Johanna Brückner-Hofmann upheld an injunction on sales of Galaxy Tabs handed down at the start of August, although it limited the ban to Germany and not the whole of the EU, as demanded by Apple.
In what has become a global intellectual property war between tablet and smartphone makers, Apple had filed a suit in Düsseldorf, claiming that Samsung Electronics’ flagship tablet copied the iPad in design and feel.
In a court hearing at the end of August, Samsung argued that many design features were common to all tablet-style computers – an argument rejected by Apple. The German court sided with the US company.
“The court is of the opinion that Apple’s minimalist design is not the only technical solution to make a tablet computer,” Ms Brückner-Hofmann said. “Other designs are possible.”
Samsung will appeal, saying the tablet’s design is “very generic” and not modelled on the iPad. It also complained the ruling was inconsistent with the decision of a Dutch court in August. That court ruled that Samsung’s tablet computers did not violate any of Apple’s intellectual property rights.
“We are disappointed with this [Düsseldorf] ruling and believe it severely limits consumer choice in Germany,” Samsung said.
Although Samsung says the patent battles will have no “significant” impact in its crucial European market, the verdicts pose challenges to the company’s strategy. Samsung prides itself on being a “fast follower” and is engaged in many patent disputes. However, previous cases have not caused such disruptions to sales.
Apple, which also makes the iPhone, has filed patent and design cases in various countries relating to smartphones made by Samsung and other Asian manufacturers that use Google’s Android operating system.
Apple and Samsung are fighting over patent and trademark infringement accusations and counter-claims before the US government’s International Trade Commission, and in courts in the US, Australia, South Korea and Japan.
Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is seen as the most credible alternative to the iPad, which has dominated the personal technology market – and has sold about 30m units – since its launch some 18 months ago.
The relationship is all the more fraught as Apple also remains one of Samsung’s biggest customers for memory chips, forcing the South Korean group to tread a fine line between beating a rival and not offending a top customer.