Apple vs Samsung: something here is rotten

Should rivals be banned on Apple's say-so?

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Last week, we announced that the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 had finally made it to the UK, aiming to prove "that you can buy a decent slate that doesn't have a fruit logo on it."

Not any more, you can't: Apple's persuaded almost all of the EU to ban it.

The ban is the latest development in the ongoing "you copied our stuff! You suck!" "No, you copied our stuff! You suck!" patent argy-bargy between Apple and everybody else on the planet.

What's interesting isn't the rights and wrongs of the arguments, though. It's that Samsung wasn't warned about the case or given the right to reply. "Apple says you suck!" the court has effectively said. "I like them! Bring me the banhammer!"

EU can't be serious

The way things work in Europe is fairly simple: if one country decides you're a big old intellectual property infringer and bans your product from sale, then the rest of the EU - with the exception of the Netherlands, who Apple will be talking to today - follows suit. That'd be fine in an equal, just world, but of course we don't live in an equal, just world.

Fairly or unfairly, German courts have a reputation for liking intellectual property owners a lot more than they like intellectual property infringers. If Apple was aware of that, then it might try something like suing Samsung in Germany to get an EU-wide ban with the minimum of fuss.

I'm not saying that was Apple's plan, of course, but isn't it a happy coincidence that that's exactly what has happened?

Let's say for the sake of argument that the ban isn't justified. Samsung's had the wind knocked out of its sales at a crucial point in the Tab's marketing, and if it loses lots of sales - which it will; it's likely to take a month or more to get the ban lifted - then that's likely to have an effect on the overall profitability of the Tab range.

If the courts ultimately decide that Apple was wrong and that Samsung hasn't infringed anything, Apple will be liable for damages - but by then the damage will be done.

As Reuters reports, Europe is a great place for firms to take on Apple's iPad due to the relatively small presence of Apple retail outlets (52 in Europe compared to 258 in the US) - although Apple's sheer size and deals with suppliers gives it economies of scale that most rivals can only dream of. Competing against that is tough enough, but competing when you're not allowed to sell any kit is, of course, impossible.

I don't know whether Apple's claims against Samsung have any merit, but I do worry about an intellectual property regime that can ban entire product lines on little more than a rival firm's say-so.

That can't be right, can it?

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