Apple Inc scored a symbolic legal victory in efforts to keep its lead spot in the tablet computer market when a German court upheld a ban barring Samsung's local unit from selling its Galaxy 10.1 tablets in Europe's biggest economy.

Samsung, which said it will appeal the decision, and Apple have been locked in a global battle over smartphone and tablet patents since April.

Samsung's Galaxy devices are seen as among the biggest challengers to Apple's mobile products, which have achieved runaway success.

Samsung said it was disappointed by the ruling and that it believed the ruling restricts design innovation and progress in the industry.

It said it would explore all legal options, including continuing to aggressively pursue Apple for what Samsung said are a violation of its wireless technology patents around the world.

Craig Cartier, analyst at consultancy firm Frost & Sullivan, said that while Friday's ruling would not greatly affect Samsung it could set a precedent for other courts and have repercussions for patent battles worldwide.

There has been an arms race in the patent world which has led to a high valuation of patent portfolios, including Nortel's $4.5 billion patent auction, Cartier said.

Companies may start to question if patent values are simply another bubble waiting to burst. 

STILL FOR SALE

The temporary injunction upheld by the court on Friday bars Samsung Germany from selling the Galaxy 10.1 tablet in Germany.

But retailers such as consumer electronics chain Media Markt will still be able to sell the device by selling off existing stock or getting new supplies from the South Korean group's parent Samsung International.

Media Markt said it was too early to say what the verdict would mean for its business.

Patent expert Florian Mueller said in his blog www.fosspatents.com that the sales ban in Europe for Samsung Germany has no practical consequences.

The German subsidiary is also barred from selling the tablets in Europe, excluding the Netherlands where Apple requested a separate injunction.

Giving the ruling, Judge Johanna Brueckner-Hofmann said in court in Duesseldorf that the overall impression of the tablet was too similar to the design of Apple's iPad.

It (the tablet) is distinguished by its smooth, simple areas, Brueckner-Hofmann said.

By contrast, a Dutch court ruled last month that it found no infringement for Samsung's tablets.

Apple repeated its usual statement saying that: This kind of blatant copying is wrong, and we need to protect Apple's intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.

In a global intellectual property battle, Apple has claimed the Galaxy line of mobile phones and tablets slavishly copied the iPhone and iPad and has sued the Korean company in the United States, Australia, Japan and Korea as well as in Europe.

Samsung, whose tablets are based on Google Inc's Android software, has counter-sued Apple.

On Thursday, Apple also filed a suit against Samsung in Japan, seeking to ban sales of some of its gadgets there.

That same day, smartphone maker HTC said that it extended its lawsuit against Apple to include more patents the Taiwanese company acquired from Google as legal battles become increasingly common in the hi-tech industry.