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Australia court to hear Samsung-Apple case in March

An iPhone 4S is shown on display at an Apple Store in Clarendon
An iPhone 4S is shown on display at an Apple Store in Clarendon

SYDNEY (Reuters) - An Australian court has agreed to hear in March a case brought by Samsung Electronics to ban sales of Apple Inc's latest iPhone, with sales allowed to continue as normal ahead of the full hearing on alleged patent infringements.

Samsung has sought to block sales of Apple's latest iPhone 4S, which went on sale in early October, by filing preliminary sales injunction requests in four countries including Australia.

The decision by the court to hold a full hearing in March gives Apple at least four months to sell the new iPhone in Australia. Apple stunned Wall Street last month with quarterly results that missed expectations for the first time in years as customers held off buying iPhones until the October launch.

"The case will be fixed for a hearing for three weeks, commencing in March, 2012, with the date to be fixed on Friday," justice Annabelle Bennett told the Australian Federal Court in Sydney on Tuesday.

Bennett said sales of the iPhone 4S in Australia would be allowed to continue in the meantime.

"I stand over the application for an interlocutory injunction, that will stand over to the same date, as that of the date of the hearing," she added.

Apple and Samsung have been locked in a legal battle in 10 countries involving smartphones and tablet computers as they jostle for top spot in the fast-growing markets. Apple is also Samsung's biggest customer, buying mainly chips and displays.

Lawyers for Apple had wanted a hearing for the case to be held in August next year, but Bennett said this was too far away.

"They are trying to expand the Android market. The longer it's left the harder it will be for Samsung," Justice Bennett said.

Samsung uses Google Inc's Android operating system in its smart phones.

In October, Samsung filed preliminary injunction motions against the latest iPhone in Japan, France and Italy, claiming the product infringed its patents.

The case in Australia will center around alleged infringement of 3 patents and more than 25 claims.

Samsung's latest salvo came after the South Korean electronics giant suffered a series of setbacks in its ongoing legal battles with the U.S. firm.

Apple has scored preliminary injunctions against some Samsung products in Australia, Germany and the Netherlands, and further seeks to block sales of Samsung models in the United States, the key smartphone battleground.

In Australia, Samsung has appealed against an Australian court's decision to grant a preliminary injunction blocking the sale of Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet, with a full court hearing scheduled for November 25.

(Reporting by Amy Pyett; Editing by Ed Davies and Alex Richardson)

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