Why has Germany blocked sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab?

In this article, get the full story on why the Galaxy Tab 10.1 Web page includes this disclaimer.
Screen capture by Stephanie Crawford for HowStuffWorks

It's hard to deny that the features of the Samsung Galaxy Tab are very similar to those of the Apple iPad. Starting with version 10.1, the Galaxy Tab hardware seems to be mimicking the appearance of the iPad. In addition, the Galaxy Tab runs Google's Android 3 mobile operating system, which Android developers redesigned specifically for tablet computing [source: Android.com]. Since the iPad led the way in expanding tablet computing, it's hard to imagine that any tablet on the market today wouldn't want to imitate the features that have made the iPad a success.

However, are the similarities between the Galaxy Tab and the iPad strong enough to require legal action? A German court thought so -- it ruled in favor of Apple in a lawsuit accusing Samsung of infringing on Apple's patents in September 2011. This meant that several new Samsung devices, including the Galaxy Tab 10.1, could not be sold in Germany. So, how did all this come about, and how will this and other lawsuits impact the tablet market?

Apple made the first move in April 2011, when it filed a patent infringement lawsuit against Samsung in the European Union countries. In its claim, Apple listed several Samsung devices which resemble Apple devices, naming the Galaxy Tab and several smartphones like the Galaxy S 4G and the Continuum. Two months later, Apple amended the suit to add even more devices, including the newest models of the Galaxy Tab and Galaxy S [source: Bagh].

This lawsuit joins a slew of intellectual property rights cases Apple has filed in countries where Samsung products are sold. These cases also target Motorola, HTC and other corporations who make and market devices that happen to feature Android. Apple's argument is that certain hardware and software features violate patent and trademark rights associated with its iPad and iPhone. The following are just some of the violations that Apple cites in its case filed April 15, 2011, in California:

  • U.S. Trade Dress Registration 3,470,983 for the overall product design, including its rectangular shape, rounded corners and silver metallic edging
  • U.S. Utility Patent 7,812,828, Ellipse Fitting for Multi-Touch Surfaces, better known as the multi-touch function in which two or more fingers moving on the touch-screen produce different results than just using a single finger
  • U.S. Design Patents D602,016 and D618,677 including ornamental features such as the flat black face and the grid layout of application icons on the user interface

Reading through the complaint documents, you might think that Apple has a sound case. There is extensive research behind each claimed violation with side-by-side comparisons of Apple and Samsung products. However, Samsung has some reasonable arguments in its defense. Next, let's hear how things played out in Germany leading up to the ban there.