For Apple, No Tactic Is Too Sneaky When It Comes to Defending the iPad

Last Updated Aug 10, 2011 11:39 AM EDT

Apple (APPL) was able to talk a German court into a preliminary injunction against Samsung, which keeps the Galaxy Tab tablet away from most of the European Union for the time being. Details of Apple's filing make it clear that it is also trying to do the same to Motorola (MMI) and its Android-based Xoom, as patent blogger Florian Mueller reports.

But it turns out that this isn't a story of Apple protecting some hard-won patented innovations. Instead, the company is trying to block competitors based on a trademarked design -- basically, a tablet shape. And it's filing for these preliminary injunctions without giving the other parties any warning that would let them defend their position in court.

The shape of lawsuits to come
Apple's latest actions (the request for the injunction against Samsung was only filed on August 4) shows just how ludicrous and disconnected from the idea of innovation the lawsuits have become. Here are images comparing the Apple and Samsung tablets from the complaint, via Mueller, who is German and gained access to the document (click to enlarge):



Out of curiosity, what is a tablet supposed to look like? A sphere? Does Apple really intend to pretend that it there haven't been rectangular-shaped tablets for years, even if they weren't terribly popular?

Apple is showing its true colors. This has nothing to do with seeing its work taken by someone else. The company wants to finally dominate a market, but as happened in the PC space decades ago, its insistence on owning everything and not licensing technology locked it out of real domination.

A couple of years ago, the iPhone suggested that Apple might have found a way to make its business model dominant in the smartphone market, and not just highly profitable. Then Google (GOOG) Android handsets showed that the old Microsoft (MSFT) model of leveraging third-party hardware vendors to speed innovation and time to market still had legs. Now Android is the smartphone market leader.

A cheap legal shot
Complaining that other tablets are shaped like tablets apparently wasn't enough for Apple. It decided to take troll-like steps to ensure the effectiveness of its tactics. According to Mueller, Apple brought action in Düsseldorf district court, which apparently has a reputation similar to that of the Eastern District of Texas in terms of favoring plaintiffs.

But one place in which German and U.S. law vary greatly: Apple had no legal obligation to inform Samsung of the action and, so, didn't. That's right -- this was a court appearance in which only Apple showed up because Samsung didn't even know about it.

Is the approach legal? Yes. But it still smells like old fish. Apple shows that even with its understanding of design and marketing, it can't slug it out in the market place. The company likes to dish it out, but it can't take any real competition.

Apple is simply a corporate baby, running to mommy to get someone else in trouble. I wonder if the reputation it builds on this front will eventually cost it more than any benefits that arise from blocking competitors on ridiculous grounds. Talk about hiring yourself out as the pro bono PR team for Google, Samsung, and Motorola. This could even give rise to a new Android ad campaign: What's Apple so afraid of?

Related: Image: Flickr user Big D2112, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.

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