Apple’s sinking share in France and Germany may be fueling patent wars

Whether or not competing products do in fact infringe on Apple’s patents, Apple may have another reason to attack its rivals so aggressively in France and Germany: the company is losing ground. New data from Kantar Worldpanel released on Thursday shows that while the launch of the iPhone 4S was a huge hit in the United States and the United Kingdom, smartphone users in key markets like France and Germany were seemingly not as impressed with the handset. Read on for more.

Reactions to the iPhone 4S were mixed when it was unveiled in October. The handset shares a number of features with its predecessor, as did the iPhone 3GS when it launched, and hype surrounding a rumored iPhone 5 that would offer a design overhaul left a number of onlookers wanting more. When the phone launched later that month, Apple sold 4 million units in the new iPhone’s debut weekend alone and talk of “disappointment” was, for the most part, laid to rest.

To put those figures in perspective, Apple sold 25% more iPhone 4S handsets to end users in three days than Samsung’s Galaxy S II line of smartphones sold — into sales channels — during the its first two months of availability.

Demand was clearly through the roof for Apple’s new smartphone in some markets, but as it turns out, this may not be the case in all regions. Market research firm Kantar Worldpanel’s data shows that Apple lost significant ground in at least two key markets despite the launch of its new smartphone. Coincidentally, perhaps, those two markets are also regions where Apple is focusing a tremendous amount of effort on using the patent system to ban sales of rival handsets.

From September through the end of November this year, Apple’s share of the smartphone market in the U.S. ballooned to 36% from 25% during the same period in 2010 according to Kantar. The iPhone’s performance in the U.K. was equally impressive, pushing Apple’s market share to 31% between September and November compared to 21% a year earlier.

In Germany however, where Android holds 61% of the market and Samsung’s Galaxy S II remains the top-selling handset, Apple’s share slid from 27% during the three-month period ending in November 2010 to 22% during the same period this year. The iPhone lost even more ground in France, where Apple’s share dropped to 20% from 29% over year-over-year. The weakening European economy and sinking prices of competitors’ smartphones are cited by Reuters as likely factors contributing to slowed iPhone sales.

As Android grows more popular in the region, Apple’s patent strategy has seemingly grown more aggressive as well. Germany and France are among the countries where Apple’s patent infringement complaints have been most abundant, targeting competitors such as Samsung, HTC and Motorola. While Apple’s sliding position in these markets is certainly not the only reason the Cupertino, California-based technology giant is attacking its rivals over patents — Apple has also filed numerous complaints in the U.S., where some retailers are still struggling to keep the iPhone 4S in stock — it remains a possibility that Apple’s aggression in France and Germany is fueled at least in part by slowed adoption of its smartphones.

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