Samsung Electronics now wants to file a motion to ban Apple's iPhone 4S in Korea. The company had held off suing Apple on its home turf because it enjoys a solid lead in the market here, whereas the iPhone is miles ahead everywhere else.
But Shin Jong-kyun, the head of Samsung's mobile communications business told reporters in Hong Kong on Wednesday, "We are looking into filing a motion in a Korean court to ban the sale of the iPhone 4S in Korea."
Samsung has applied for injunctions in courts in Australia, France, Italy and Japan seeking bans on the sale of the iPhone 4S. "We haven't limited our legal actions to certain countries," Shin said. "We intend to take legal action in as many countries as possible with all the patents we can use."
Apple began marketing the iPhone 4S in seven countries including the U.S. and Japan on Oct. 14. Sales in Korea are to start in-mid November, and observers believe that is when Samsung will sue here.
◆ Major Offensive
Samsung believes it cannot afford to lose any more ground to Apple's legal offensive after Apple managed to get Samsung smartphones and tablet PCs banned in about 30 European countries. The problem for Samsung is that the iPhone commands a huge fan base in Korea, which although not a majority is tech-savvy and fiercely loyal.
Samsung has already failed to obtain a sales ban for the iPhone 4S in Germany, the Netherlands and Australia and apparently hopes that a Korean court will look more favorably on its demands.
A senior Samsung executive said, "We are filing lawsuits in countries where we believe we can get the most advantageous rulings." Samsung is suing Apple for violations related to communications technologies in France and Italy but focusing on patents related to user interface in Japan.
Samsung apparently changed its mind about suing in Korea because the damage from Apple's offensive was worse than expected. "We only took defensive measures because Apple is a major client," Shin said. "But after we were attacked in Germany and Australia, we had no choice but to shift our strategy." Apple is a major customer for Samsung chips and LCD screens used in the iPhone.
The global court battle seems an elaborate preparation for negotiations over some kind of settlement possibility, with both firms looking for leverage.
Samsung Electronics president Lee Jae-yong attended a memorial for Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Wednesday and told reporters after arriving back in Korea, "We will decide on additional legal measures after some further discussion with management."
In California, Lee met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and discussed long-term parts supply. Although the two companies are locked in a legal battle over patents, Lee has indicated he does not want matters to get out of hand.
◆ Image Concerns
The Korea Communications Commission and mobile communications companies estimate there are around 3.7 million iPhone users in Korea. Given that there are 51 million mobile phone users in Korea, that means seven out of every 100 Koreans own iPhones. Some even buy them overseas before they are released in Korea.
Apple's fan base here is second in loyalty only to that in the U.S., based on the number of apps that are downloaded. That means Samsung could become severely unpopular with a significant portion of its captive Korean market for other products if it tries to ban the iPhone here.