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Suwon, South Korea-based Samsung, which supplies key components such as chips to Apple for its smart devices, has fought back with lawsuits accusing the U.S. company of violating its patents. The battle is playing out in 10 countries, according to Samsung, including the United States and South Korea.

A German court recently ruled in Apple’s favor and banned direct sales of Samsung’s new Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet computer, saying it “did not keep the necessary distance” from the iPad 2 in its design, the news agency dapd reported. A court ruling in Australia on Apple’s request to stop sales of the same tablet in that country is expected this week.

Samsung, meanwhile, has asked a Dutch court to prevent Apple from selling iPhones and iPads in the Netherlands, saying the U.S. company does not have licenses to use Samsung-patented 3G mobile technology in the devices.

A development sometimes overlooked amid the arguments over intellectual property is that Samsung, fueled by the Galaxy brand, is gaining fast in the rush to woo global smartphone consumers after a late start.

The company ranked No. 2 globally in smartphones behind Apple in the second quarter of this year, according to U.S.-based market research firm IDC, which cited the growing global popularity of the Galaxy S.

Apple shipped 20.3 million iPhones for a market share of 19.1 percent, while Samsung’s results were 17.3 million smartphones and 16.2 percent market share.

Samsung and other manufacturers, however, are far behind Apple in tablets, where the U.S. company controlled 80 percent of the North American market in the second quarter, according to research firm Strategy Analytics.

Song Jaeyong, a professor of strategy and international management at Seoul National University Business School, says Samsung has excelled by being a “fast follower” _ imitating or licensing technologies and then competing by lowering costs, improving quality and adding functions.

The company should “hire more outsiders and outcast figures” to spur “creative innovation,” said Song, who co-authored a recent study of the company that appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

To be sure, Samsung has made efforts to bring in outsiders, with powerful Chairman Lee Kun-hee repeatedly urging creativity.

Samsung actually is a great employer of foreigners at all levels,” said Michell, the consultant and author. “But the Korean voice doesn’t listen to the foreigners working inside enough.”

American Michael Kim can attest to that. He says he was recruited to work at Samsung and did so in 2008 and 2009, serving as a senior manager in the semiconductor business.

“People at the top of Samsung want the company to become more innovative and not be perceived as the imitator that it has been perceived as for so long” but a rigid corporate culture works against that, he said.

“They would tell us that they want us to be change agents and that they want us to try to fix whatever we see that needs fixing,” said Kim. “You’re appreciated until you actually try to start changing things.”

Kim said a hope for the company could be when the current crop of smart, talented younger engineers, who he says are discouraged from speaking up, advance into middle management where they can wield more influence.

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