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Apple blocks tablet sales in Europe over rivals allegedly copying its iPad

by Phil Hornshaw

Nobody in the non-Apple camp seems to be able to get much of a foothold in the burgeoning tablet market, but that isn’t stopping Apple from slapping many of its competitors with patent infringement lawsuits alleging copying of its juggernaut iPad.

We’ve already seen a suit filed against Samsung in the U.S. that claims the South Korean device maker copied Apple’s iPad 2’s design and feel with its Galaxy Tab 10.1, but now Apple is expanding its legal reckoning on the other side of the Atlantic. According to a story from PCWorld, Apple has taken its fight with Samsung to Germany, where it has started a suit and filed a motion to stop the sale of Galaxy Tabs.

That mirrors a deal Apple and Samsung reached just last week, in which Samsung agreed to allow Apple to take a look at a new Australian version of the Galaxy Tab 10.1 for a week before Samsung starts selling them in the country. The Australian version is apparently different in design from the U.S. version – the one Apple claims rips-off its iPad – and while Samsung has said it isn’t changing its plans to start selling the device in Australia, it’s giving Apple a chance to inspect the device as a way of heading off any potential patent disputes before they begin.

Back in Europe, the injunction by the German court applies to the whole of the European Union except the Netherlands, PCWorld reports. Here’s a quote from that story explaining the situation:

Samsung said it was unaware of Apple filing for the injunction, while the German court made its order to block sales of the tablet ‘without any hearing or presentation of evidence from Samsung,’ and that it would ‘act immediately to defend our intellectual property rights.’ Meanwhile, European customs officers were ordered to seize shipments of the Tab, and tens of thousands of Samsung tablets are thought to have been seized after the ruling, according to the U.K.’s Guardian.

Apple and Samsung have a separate case going in the Netherlands, where Apple is also seeking an injunction against Samsung, and the schedule has Apple appearing before a court in The Hague today to be heard on the motion.

Motorola also in the spotlight

Meanwhile, Samsung isn’t the only device maker feeling Apple’s legal wrath: Motorola and its Xoom tablet are also under fire in Europe by the iPad maker, according to intellectual property activist Florian Mueller’s blog, Foss Patents. Mueller reported on the Samsung injunction and in analyzing the court documents, discovered that Apple was currently suing Motorola, too, having filed a complaint about the Xoom tablet either prior to, or simultaneously to, the Samsung filing.

Mueller isn’t sure, but he speculates that the Motorola complaint also has a motion for an EU-wide injunction against the sale of the tablet. The battle between Apple and Motorola concerns 40 patents over which the two companies are suing, and has been ongoing since October 2010.

It’ll be interesting to see how all these tablet fights work out, especially as the iPad is expected to hold about 61 percent of the tablet market at the end of the year, according to an analysis from DigiTimes. That’s lower than the market share it currently enjoys, driven down by the sheer number of Android tablets on the market.

But if Apple can put a legal smackdown on some of its biggest competitors, at home and abroad, who knows how the tablet market could shake out this year or next?