Samsung's Galaxy touchscreen tablets, powered by Google's Android operating system, are considered by many industry experts to be the main rival to the iPad, though they are currently a distant second to Apple's device. Microsoft and Google are also preparing tablet offerings.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose, California, had previously denied Apple's bid for an injunction on the tablet and multiple Galaxy smartphones. However, a federal appeals court instructed Koh to reconsider Apple's request on the tablet.
"Although Samsung has a right to compete, it does not have a right to compete unfairly, by flooding the market with infringing products," Koh wrote on Tuesday, adding the order should become effective once Apple posts a $2.6m bond to protect against damages suffered by Samsung if the injunction is later found to have been wrong.
Apple has waged an international patent war since 2010 as it seeks to limit the growth of Google's Android system, the world's best-selling mobile operating platform. A decisive injunction in one of the U.S. legal cases could strengthen Apple's hand in negotiating cross-licensing deals, where firms agree to let each other use their patented technologies.
Opponents of Apple say the iPhone and iPad maker is using patents too aggressively in its bid to stamp out competition.
"The relief being given to Apple here is extraordinary. Preliminary injunctions are rarely asked for and rarely granted," said Colleen Chien, a professor at Santa Clara Law in Silicon Valley.
"That this was a design patent and copying was alleged distinguish this case from plain vanilla utility patent cases. Cases involving these kinds of patents are based more on a counterfeiting theory than a competition theory, so I don't expect this case to have ramifications for all smartphone disputes, but rather those involving design patents and the kind of product resemblance we had here."
The injunction against Samsung comes less than a week after Apple suffered a serious setback when a federal judge in Chicago dismissed its patent claims against Google's Motorola Mobility unit. Judge Richard Posner ruled that an injunction barring the sale of Motorola smartphones would harm consumers.