Apple's new iPhone 4S, unveiled to great fanfare on Tuesday, may be kept from consumers in Italy, France, and maybe other countries, if its rival Samsung prevails in a bitter legal dispute.
The South Korean company said it was moving to "all-out war" in its patent infringement dispute with Apple, and had filed injunctions with the Italian and French courts seeking to ban the sale of the iPhone 4S.
The phone, which Apple says is an improvement on its predecessor, with features such as a better camera and a voice-activated mobile assistant, is due to go on sale in France on 14 October, the same day it is launched in the UK and the US. Consumers in Italy will be able to get their hands on it two weeks later – unless Samsung wins approval for its injunction.
"Apple has continued to flagrantly violate our intellectual property rights and free-ride on our technology, and we will steadfastly protect our intellectual property," the company said. It will consider launching similar injunctions in other countries where Apple intends to sell the iPhone, but gave no further details. A Samsung spokesman went on to say "we are virtually going into an all-out war" – words which he revised to "going into an aggressive stance" after his initial choice went round the internet at lightning speed.
Samsung is the world's No 2 mobile phone maker in terms of devices sold, but it is not just the battle for customers that is vital to corporate profits in this increasingly competitive industry. All the big players are fighting in the courts in all their main markets, asserting patent claims on everything from email syncing to the look and feel of a touchscreen menu.
Samsung is claiming the iPhone 4S infringes its technology patents on a communications system for 3G mobile handsets that enables the continued support of voice, text, data and multimedia services.
The company's move yesterday escalates a patent war that began in the spring in the US, when Apple sued Samsung, claiming the Korean company had "slavishly" copied its iPhone and iPad devices. Apple has widened the front to include other countries, such as Australia, and a German court agreed last month that the Samsung Galaxy Tab had copied the iPad, banning it from sale in that country. Samsung, meanwhile, is counter-suing in France.
Tech giants trade blows
April Apple accuses Samsung of "slavishly" copying its iPhone and iPad. It says Samsung infringed its trademark and patents with the Galaxy S and Galaxy Tab. Samsung countersues, saying Apple infringed 10 of its own patents, and asks a court to force Apple to hand over prototypes of new devices.
June Apple issues another patent case in Samsung's home country of South Korea, its first outside the US.
August An Australian court grants an injunction preventing the release of the Galaxy Tab. The Tab is also banned in Europe, but that order is soon lifted everywhere apart from Germany.
September The Galaxy Tab 7.7 is pulled from a Berlin trade fair after a court order.
Yesterday Samsung reignites the battle with its move against the iPhone 4S.