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German court to reportedly rule Samsung exploited 'image' of Apple's iPhone and iPod

A German court is preparing to issue a tentative ruling on an Apple assertion that Samsung is guilty of unfair competition practices in deliberately copying the look of the iPhone and iPod, and one report claims the court will side with Apple.

Citing an "absolutely reliable and independent source," FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller said the Düsseldorf Regional Court is tentatively planning to make a ruling on August 8, which will reportedly find Samsung to have unlawfully imitated the iPhone and iPod with a number of legacy products.

The Samsung devices in question include the Galaxy S, Galaxy S Plus, Galaxy S II, Galaxy Ace, Galaxy R, and Galaxy Wave M smartphones, as well as the Galaxy S WiFi 4.0 media player.

Unlike many other high-profile suits involving Apple and Samsung, the case in Germany pertains to competition law and not patent or design rights. The Cupertino company asserts Samsung's products served to confuse consumers as to what company made the devices.

Mueller notes Apple's claims are based on Section 4 paragraph 9 of Germany's unfair competition law, which reads:

[Unfairness shall have occurred in particular where a person]

9. offers goods or services that are replicas of goods or services of a

competitor if he

a) causes avoidable deception of the purchaser regarding their commercial origin;

b) unreasonably exploits or impairs the assessment of the replicated goods or

services; or

c) dishonestly obtained the knowledge or documents needed for the replicas;

German law prohibits one company from imitating or copying a competitor's product or service, Mueller says, with analysis based on "overall impression" of said products. There are three degrees to which the court can find imitation: identical imitation, near-identical imitation and derivative imitation.

"The key test for the derivative imitation the court is inclined to find here is whether the design elements the defendant adopted (i.e., copied) are those who are characteristic of the plaintiff's asserted product," Mueller writes.

While not a death blow to Samsung by any means, mostly because the products in suit are older models, Apple could come away with substantial compensatory damages. Perhaps more important, a pro-Apple decision would further cement Samsung's role as a "copycat" in the court of public opinion.