Patent case casting long shadow over IFA fair
A year after Samsung Electronics was humiliated when Apple forced it to remove a tablet on display at the Berlin IFA fair, the world’s biggest consumer-electronics companies are racing to avoid similar gaffes as the annual gathering gets under way.
Makers of mobile phones, computers and TV sets have registered a record number of rights with German authorities this year to weed out imitations, said Claudia Rossow-Scholl, a customs officer who has worked at IFA since 2005.
Exhibitors have also taken licenses for more inventions than ever from peers as they seek to avoid their devices being drawn into scrutiny, she said.
Samsung, Sony and Acer are among companies preparing to show their wares at Europe’s largest consumer electronics fair, which generated 3.7 billion euros ($4.6 billion) in orders last year.
The event kicks off as makers are digesting Apple’s $1 billion patent victory against Samsung, a verdict that shook the industry and that may lead to a U.S. sales ban of some of the Korean company’s smartphones.
“There are rights holders who approach us ahead of the show and say, ‘Have a look at this or that rival product’,” Rossow-Scholl said in an interview after weeks of reviewing gadgets that are delivered to Berlin to be displayed, declining to name specific manufacturers.
“Companies have become a lot more watchful.”
Germany is a hotspot for technology-patent litigation. While companies including Google’s Motorola Mobility unit, Microsoft, Apple and Samsung have been suing each other around the globe, one of the focus jurisdictions is Germany because its courts allow for swift action and cover an important market for mobile devices.
Following a decision by a Dusseldorf court last August in favor of Apple to temporarily ban the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy 10.1 tablet in Germany, Samsung redesigned the device by relocating the speaker and changing the shape.
The smaller 7.7 model was removed a few weeks later during IFA after Apple won an injunction.
Device makers are under pressure to woo customers with machines that appeal to the masses while also having to dedicate large development teams to differentiating their designs.
Profit margins are being squeezed as the economic slowdown hurts demand, be it in the fast-growing $219 billion smartphone market, or the laptop and TV markets.
Samsung is set to unveil new products at IFA as it searches for a response to the ruling against its phones and tablets running the Android operating system. The company plans to show devices with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 software, according to a person familiar with the plan.
Samsung will also display the next version of its Galaxy Note tablet, which sold more than 10 million units in less than a year, the person said, asking not to be identified because the plans are confidential.
Very-high-definition TVs from LG Electronics and Toshiba will also be among products on display at the event, which attracted 240,000 visitors last year, according to the event’s organizers.
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