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Apple's Tablet Battles: All About Appearances

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Aug 12, 2011 5:00 AM PT

The tech industry's competitive weapon of choice -- the patent suit -- has drawn blood yet again, with Apple wielding it against Samsung.

Apple's Tablet Battles: All About Appearances

Briefly, Apple is pursing legal remedies against Samsung, alleging that the company's Galaxy Tab violates several of its patents for the iPad. As a result, the South Korean manufacturer found itself on the receiving end of an injunction issued by a German court that prohibits sale of the device throughout most of Europe.

The exception is the Netherlands, where Apple has lodged a separate case against Samsung. The Dutch judge Edger Brinkman is expected to make a ruling by September 15.

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1
The Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1

The Galaxy has been in the UK's market for about a week and was poised to go on sale on the rest of the continent when the injunction was issued.

Apple is reportedly pursuing similar actions with the same German court against Motorola for its Xoom tablet.

Neither Apple, Samsung nor Motorola responded to MacNewsWorld's requests to comment for this story.

If It Looks Like an iPad ...

Apple owns a Community design right that covers the appearance of product design as a whole or in part, said Will Trueba, a founding partner with the law firm of Espinosa Trueba.

"The rights are similar those protected by a design patent in the U.S. In other words, this victory by Apple has nothing to do with hardware, software or the functionality of the product," he told MacNewsWorld. "It has everything to do with how it looks."

Since patent rights vary from country to country, the findings of the German Court on Apple's Community design will be legally irrelevant to any proceeding in another jurisdiction like South Korea or the U.S., Trueba pointed out.

Still, the damage from the injunction will be significant. It requires Samsung to cease all sales of its devices incorporating a similar shape, which is bad. What may be worse, though, is the impact it could have on Samsung's ability to come out with its next-generation device.

It could perhaps require Samsung "to redesign its device to avoid having the preliminary injunction apply to any new models," Trueba said.

What Samsung probably will do, he speculated, is challenge the issuance of a preliminary injunction and argue that the Community design is invalid on the basis of prior designs, or that the court should give Apple a narrower scope of coverage based on earlier design rights that are in the public domain.

A Long Haul

However it plays out, it is clear Apple is committed to spending significant legal resources to protect its market share, Vivek Jayaram, founder of the Jayaram Law Group, told MacNewsWorld.

"Apple's objective is unmistakable: to thwart the efforts of iPhone and iPad copycats immediately and on a global scale," he said.

"By committing substantial litigation resources to further its purpose of deterring potential competition now," argued Jayaram, "Apple is clearing the path for long-term dominance in the space it's helped transform over the past decade."

Market Backlash

Apple may face unforeseen consequences in the U.S. market resulting from its legal actions in Europe, Rob Walch, host of Today in iOS, told MacNewsWorld.

"Here is Apple saying, 'Samsung is blatantly copying and cloning our work,'" he said. "It is basically giving Samsung free advertising."

If the Galaxy Tab were priced lower than the iPad, it could be a major factor for some people, he said. "When you look at all the devices out there, Samsung's is definitely the closest in appearance to the iPad."

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