The raging tablet patent war is going very badly for Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC). It lost against Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) in Australia, and now a German court has barred the sale of its Android Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Although Samsung will likely appeal the ruling, the setback in Germany could delay the company's plans to overtake Apple in the tablet PC market. It also could slow down the adoption of Android by other wireless handset/tablet manufacturers. (See: Brawling OEMs & a Broken Patents System.)
Samsung rivals need to pay attention and not rejoice over its losses so far in the patent war, which has pulled in combatants from all the major wireless handset and tablet markets. The same strategy Apple has used to tie up Samsung in Australia and Europe awaits them, too, because the company has other tablet makers in its sights. It has filed suit against Motorola Mobility Inc. (NYSE: MMI) in Germany and wants an injunction preventing the sale of the company's Xoom tablet.
Companies like Taiwan's HTC are similarly in the dock in various courts globally as Apple fights to prevent what it alleges is the theft of its designs. The war will play out in many long, drawn-out battles, and it's not clear whether appellate courts will back up Apple's recent victories. What's certain, however, is that the situation is already having a chilling effect on the industry as manufacturers grow concerned about whether they can continue developing products based on Google's Android operating system.
The successful injunction against Samsung's Galaxy is based on Apple's Community Design Patent No. 000181607. Several industry observers have said the patent -- if upheld -- could prevent other companies from making tablets. After reviewing the design on which Apple is basing its patent defense, I couldn't help but agree that the entire situation is deeply disturbing. (See the images and associated documents here.)
Obviously, the design is similar to many other tablet designs currently in the marketplace. If Apple's latest court victory against Samsung is upheld globally, it should then be applicable against all other manufacturers. In that case, they should simply leave the market to the Cupertino, Calif., company.
Is this really what we want in the marketplace, and is this the purpose patents are meant to serve?
I might be wrong, but it seems wrongheaded that the courts would allow a company to put so many of its competitors out of business on the basis of a generic design concept. If Apple's patent defense is based solely on this or any similar concept, then the entire OEM world should be worried. If the participants in the wireless handset and tablet markets want to gain a competitive advantage, they need to look beyond silly tactical maneuverings.
Apple is already a winner in this sector. It doesn't need the black eye it will likely get from the current patent war.