Samsung ups stakes by seeking ban on Apple iPhone 4S in Australia and Japan

October 17, 2011

Samsung has stepped up its tit-for-tat court battle against Apple, its newest archrival and biggest client, saying on Monday that it has filed for sales bans on the American company’s new iPhone 4S in Australia and Japan.

The move came after Samsung filed preliminary injunction motions against the latest iPhone in France and Italy less than a day after the device was unveiled, claiming the product infringed its patents on certain mobile communications (in Australia) and interface (in Japan) technologies.

Florian Müller, an independent analyst of patent disputes within the electronics business, forecast on Monday morning that Samsung’s attempt to get an injunction in Australia, though he said the situation is “less clear” in Japan. “I believe Samsung’s attack on the iPhone 4S in Australia is doomed to fail because it relates to three patents declared essential to the 3G telecommunications standard. On Friday, a Dutch judge already made it clear that Samsung can’t seek an injunction based on such patents, and I’d be extremely surprised if an Australian judge took a different perspective on FRAND (fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory) licensing commitments,” he wrote.

The patents in Australia relate to basic mobile functionality which Samsung would be obliged to license under FRAND terms, Müller says. Those in Japan relate to user interface function which Samsung would not be obliged to license, but it would have to prove in court that they are valid “since Apple will be sure to contest their validity”, said Müller.

He thinks that Samsung is “under massive pressure” in Australia, and that court wins for Apple there mean that the US maker of the iPad and iPhone could potentially seek bans on any Android device – both phones and tablets – including those from vendors such as Motorola, now owned by Google, and HTC.

Since April, Apple and Samsung have been locked in an increasingly acrimonious legal battle in 10 countries involving smartphones and tablet computers as they jostle for the top spot in the fast-growing markets. Apple has won a number of injunctions preventing Samsung from selling its Galaxy Tab 10.1in tablet in Germany, Holland and Australia, and a new court battle is taking shape in the US.

Yet Apple is also Samsung’s biggest customer, buying mainly chips and displays from the giant Korean electronics business.

Samsung has had a number of setbacks in its efforts. Its request for a sales ban against some Apple products was rejected by a Dutch court on Friday. Samsung said on Monday that it had appealed the Australian court’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction on the Galaxy Tab 10.1.

“We do respect Apple as our biggest client but we won’t stand idly by, letting them infringe on our interest,” Samsung Electronics CEO Choi Gee-sung was quoted as saying by a spokesperson last week.

The president and chief operating officer of Samsung Electronics, Lee Jae-yong, left for the United States on Sunday to attend Apple’s private memorial service for Steve Jobs, a spokeswoman for Samsung Group said.

Local media speculated that Lee may have a separate meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook and discuss ways to resolve the intensifying legal row, but the spokeswoman denied the reports.