European customs officers have been ordered to seize shipments of Playstation 3s after LG won a preliminary injunction against Sony in an acrimonious patent battle between the two Asian electronics giants.
The ruling by the civil court of justice in the Hague means that all new PS3s have to be confiscated as they are imported into the UK and the rest of Europe for at least 10 days.
If the injunction was extended it could mean consoles disappearing from high street shelves. It is understood that Sony and computer games retailers typically have about two to three weeks' worth of PS3s in stock across the continent.
Tens of thousands of PS3s were seized by customs officers last week in the Netherlands, the Guardian has learnt, in a dispute that centres on Sony's allegedly infringing use of Blu-ray technology belonging to LG.
Sony, which imports around 100,000 of the consoles a week, is frantically trying to get the ban lifted. The Japanese company has the right to appeal to the European patents office.
LG meanwhile, could apply to the same patents office to get the 10-day import ban extended. Alternatively, the Korean company could apply for a court order to get the consoles destroyed but it is highly unlikely the court would grant a request to eliminate the warehoused goods.
LG argues that Sony PS3s infringe a number of its patents relating to playback of Blu-ray Discs. LG called for an investigation into the PS3's Blu-ray use in a filing with the US international trade commission earlier this month, and said it sought a "permanent exclusion order ... excluding entry into the United States" of the games console.
If Sony is found to have infringed LG patents, it could be forced to compensate the South Korean manufacturer for each PS3 it has sold around the world, which could cost hundreds of millions of pounds.
The two technology giants are involved in a complex web of seven separate patent disputes, with Sony also seeking to block shipments of LG smartphones to the US.
Rotterdam and Schiphol are the main import points for PS3s for both the UK and continental Europe. The consoles are being stockpiled in Dutch warehouses until it becomes clear how the case will develop.
A spokesman for Sony Playstation said: "We are currently looking into this matter, and cannot make any comments at this point in time." LG declined to comment, although sources close to the company confirmed the current legal position.
Sony has sold more than 3m PS3s in the UK since its launch in March 2007. The Japanese manufacturer is understood to have a stockpile of around 6,500 PS3s in Germany and 10,000 in the UK.
However, the majority of PS3 sales around Europe are pre-orders, meaning they are already sold before they gather dust at warehouses in the UK and elsewhere. Stockpiles could run out within two to three weeks if the ban is not lifted, the Guardian understands.
I'm sure it's already been submitted, but LG won a temporary injuction against Sony, and as a result European customs have been ordered to confiscate all PS3 shipments for 10 days.