Apple has sued Samsung, looking to ban sales of Samsung's Galaxy tablet and smart phone family in the UK.  (Source: Samsung)

Apple's won a previous ruling when an elderly German judge ruled that Samsung's thin Galaxy Tab 10.1 violated Apple's hypothetical "fat iPad" Community Design from 2004.  (Source: Scribd)

After its loss to Microsoft's Windows in the 80s and 90s Apple is determined to use lawsuits to avoid facing a similar fate with Android.  (Source: Columbia University)

Apple wants to ban sales of all Samsung Android tablets and smart phones. Samsung is the world's top maker of Android smart phones and tablets.  (Source: Phoenix New Times)
Apple and Samsung are currently 1-for-1 in court rulings

Adding to its growing pile of lawsuits [1][2][3][4][5][6][7] against the popular Android operating system, Apple, Inc. (AAPL) has filed suit in the U.K.'s High Court alleging South Korea's Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd.'s (SEO 005930) has copied its tablet and smartphone designs.

I. Victory by Any Means Necessary

If Apple had patented the design of the Apple II back in 1977 and the technology behind it and then sued its top rival manufacturers, it might have succeeded in killing the coming consumer PC revolution.  If that had happened, consumers might have been forced to use Apple computers in the 1990s and 2000s.  Instead Apple opted for a less litigious approach -- to try to compete with its "closed box" model.  Ultimately it lost, fading into a distant second place amid the deluge of machines powered by Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Windows operating system.

Today a very similar story is playing out in the tablet and smartphone markets.  In three years Google Inc.'s open Android operating system leaped from a 1 percent smart phone operating system market share to nearly 50 percent of sales, outselling Apple phones 5-to-2 in the latest numbers.  And it's closing fast on Apple's tablet market share, leaping from approximately 3 percent a year ago to approximately 30 percent of tablet sales in 2011.  Android is winning by offering more selection and more customization options to users.

Apple recognizes this familiar state of affairs.  But this time it's determined not make the same mistake and try to outcompete its more open, more diverse rival.  It's taken to the courts to try to sue Android's top smartphone and tablet makers out of existence.  It's hoping to convince the court that it deserves a government-enforced monopoly on modern tablets and smartphones, thanks to its strong intellectual property catalog.

And amazingly it's scored a major victory in one of its first two court rulings.  A German federal court ruled that Samsung had infringed on a 2004 design patent which depicted a fat touch screen computer with only a power button.  The German court ruled the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, which is much thinner, has side buttons, and is a different aspect ratio infringes on the "minimalist" Apple Community Design.

Presiding Judge Johanna Brueckner-Hofmann remarked upon delivering the verdict, "The court is of the opinion that Apple’s minimalistic design isn’t the only technical solution to make a tablet computer, other designs are possible. For the informed customer there remains the predominant overall impression that the device looks."

However, the ruling essentially grants Apple a monopoly on all rectangular multi-touch based display tablets with one button or less on the face -- the current industry standard.  In that regard, Apple, pending appeal, was handed an effective monopoly on tablet sales in Germany, the European Union's third largest market.

II. Fight Continues to Expand With British Filing

In Britain, Samsung got the jump in the legal fight.  After Apple sued it in court in the Netherlands and Germany, Samsung sued Apple in Britain, claiming the iPhone and iPad infringe on its patents.  Now Apple has responded with yet another suit.

Both the suits are currently sealed and the patents involved have not been made clear.  Based on previous lawsuits it seems likely that Samsung's lawsuit revolves around Apple's use of wireless technology, which Samsung believes it owns the rights to.  Apple's suits are likely based on Apple's aforementioned "fat iPad" Community Design (somewhat akin to a patent) and on Apple's technology patents, such as its notorious multi-touch patent.

The new lawsuit brings the number of lawsuits between Apple and the top Android handset maker to 20.  The other lawsuits include:

4/15/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. (Case No. 5:11-cv-1846)
(North District of California)

4/21/2011: Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. v. Apple Japan, Inc.
(Tokyo District 
Court, Japan – JP Pat. No. 4642898 - 2011 (Yo) No. 22027)

4/21/2011: Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. v. Apple Japan, Inc.
(Tokyo District 
Court, Japan – JP Pat. No. 4299270 - 2011 (Yo) No. 22028)

4/21/2011: Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. v. Apple Korea Ltd
(Seoul Central 
District Court, Korea - 2011 Kahap 39552)

4/21/2011: Samsung Electronics GmbH v. Apple, Inc. and Apple GmbH
(Mannheim Regional Court, Germany) (7 O 247/11)

6/17/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Japan Corp.
(Tokyo District Court, Japan – JP 
Pat. No. 4204977 - 2011 (Yo) No. 22048)

6/17/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Japan Corp.
(Tokyo District Court, Japan – JP 
Pat. No. 4743919 - 2011 (Yo) No. 22049)

6/17/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics GmbH
(Mannheim Regional Court, 
Germany) (7 O 166/11)

6/17/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
(Seoul Central District 
Court, Korea - No. 2011 Gahap 63647)

6/27/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
(Court of Justice, the 
Hague, Netherlands) (KG 11-730)

6/27/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.
(Court of Justice, the 
Hague, Netherlands) (KG 11-731)

6/28/2011 In the Matter of Certain Mobile Electronic Devices
(ITC Case Samsung 
v. Apple 337-TA-794)

6/29/2011: Samsung Elec. Co. Ltd. et al. v. Apple Inc.
(District of Delaware, 11-cv-573-LPS)

6/29/2011: Samsung Electronics Italia s.p.a. v. la Apple Inc.
(Tribunale Di Milano, 

6/29/2011: Samsung Elec. Co. Ltd. v. Apple Retail UK et al.
(UK High Court of 
Justice Chancery Div. Patents Court HC 11 CO 2180)

7/5/2011: In the Matter of Certain Electronic Digital Media Devices and
Components Thereof
(ITC Case Apple v. Samsung 337-TA-796)

7/8/2011: Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd and Samsung Electronics France v. Apple
France et al.
(Tribunal De Grande Instance De Paris 11/10464)

7/28/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Ltd. Co.
(Federal Court of Australia, 
New South Wales District Registry, General Division) (NSD1243/2011)

8/4/2011: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics GmbH (Duesseldorf Regional Court)

Apple is also suing Google subsidiary Motorola Mobility Inc. and Taiwanese phonemaker HTC Corp. (SEO:066570) in numerous regions.  In Britain, there's a suit against HTC, in addition to the suit against Samsung.

III. Victory for Apple is Uncertain

While some think that the German decision gives Apple a major victory, there's no concept of "legal precedent" between separate EU legal jurisdictions.  In other words, the German decision has no official impact on the British case.

Further, Apple essentially lost its case in the Netherlands, where a judge ruled that Samsung did not violate Apple's "fat iPad" community design.  The court found Samsung only guilty of infringing on one minor patent on scrolling, which it remedied by altering Android's built in Android app.  Thus while Samsung tablet sales are banned in Germany, they are free to continue in the Netherlands.

Additionally, several U.S. graphics designers (with an eye for design detail) we spoke to in recent weeks expressed credulity that anyone would think Galaxy Tab was similar enough to "fat iPad" pictured in Apple's design patent to ban the Android device.  They said they found it unlikely that many international courts would side with the verdict of the German court's elderly judge.

And if Samsung can win some of its major countersuits -- such as the British or U.S. counterclaims, it could force Apple into a cross-licensing agreement clearing the way for it to freely sell its devices in currently-contested world markets.

In that regards Apple's hopes of tablet and smart phone hegemony via lawsuits may face failure either directly in its cases or in its rivals scoring victories in their countersuits.

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

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