European PS3 import ban becomes a reality

Sony has confirmed that PlayStation 3 consoles have been seized by customs officials in the Netherlands over a patent dispute.

The case involves claims by LG that the Blu-Ray feature of the console violates a patent it holds. The relevant patents appear to cover a very specific element of the technology as they don’t affect Sony’s standalone players. An initial court order barred any imports into the country for a minimum of ten days.

Although the Netherlands seizures had already been reported, today is the first time Sony officially confirmed that the court order had been carried out. It won’t say how many consoles were affected, though there are reports the total is in the tens of thousands.

What happens next is likely to be unpredictable. Although patents are administered centrally across Europe, they legally apply only on a country-by-country basis. That means LG would need to apply for a court order in a specific country to block further imports.

With Sony currently using the Netherlands as its main import route into Europe, it looks likely it will now seek a new country to bring the PS3’s into the continent, but is keeping the plans as secret as possible to delay any legal action by LG in that country.

If and when supply of the consoles will run out is also hard to say as Sony is keeping the figures under wraps. While it’s thought the company has at least a month’s worth of stock already in Europe, the timescale may be tighter than it seems because so many sales are on a pre-order basis.

This specific dispute is part of a much wider battle between the two companies, which once had a deal to work together on the technology. When they failed to extend that arrangement, the two began launching multiple patent actions, including one in the US where Sony is trying to block LG smartphones being imported.

It is worth noting that European courts have not yet ruled that Sony has indeed violated the LG patent. Instead the Netherlands court has simply been persuaded there may be a serious case to answer.

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