Apple has lost a patent infringement battle with a small electronics company in Spain after the Cupertino company claimed it had copied the design of its iPad. 

Samsung lawyers must be scratching their heads wondering where they’ve been going wrong. Apple hadn’t been doing too badly recently with its slew of patent infringement lawsuits around the world, many of which have been directed at Samsung’s Galaxy smartphone and tablet devices.

With recent court rulings in the US, Australia and Germany going in favor of the Cupertino company and against the Korean electronics giant, the iPad maker must have been feeling confident it would notch up another success against little-known Spanish tablet vendor NT-K, maker of the NT-K Android tablet. However, Apple lawyers were in for a shock this week.

Apple filed the complaint against the Spanish company in November last year, accusing it of copying the design of its iPad. That resulted in shipments of NT-K’s tablet from China being seized, with NT-K ending up, albeit temporarily, on a list of European product pirates. Even worse for the Valencia-based company, Apple also brought criminal charges against it in December last year.

Writing on the FOSS Patents blog, which broke the story, Florian Mueller said: “Considering that this was not a case of product piracy but just a dispute over whether or not Apple has exclusive design rights covering NT-K’s Android-based products, I think it’s absolutely outrageous that Apple tried to attack its rival under criminal law.”

He continued: “Having a commercial dispute is one thing, but going down the criminal law avenue is totally unreasonable.” Hardly surprisingly, NT-K is now seeking compensation from Apple for lost revenue during the time its tablet was banned.

Mueller also wrote that, according to NT-K, Apple has been pursuing a number of small tablet makers over patent issues, many of which have given in to pressure from the computer giant. NT-K, however, was determined to fight its corner, and this week came out on top.

In a post on its blog, NT-K commented on recent events and its court victory (machine-translated from Spanish): “We are a small company like many others in these times of crisis we are trying to get ahead, and it seems grossly unfair that a company the caliber of Apple has to use its dominant influence.”

It’s going to be interesting to see the effect of this case on Samsung’s ongoing legal battles with Apple in courts around the world as it defends its right to sell its Galaxy range of devices.

[via 9to5Mac]