Landmark Apple-Samsung trial starts today
Companies to spend first half of June arguing their cases in the US ITC, while Silicon Valley court action looms too
Published: 31 May, 2012
Mediation talks between the CEOs of Apple and Samsung failed to reach a truce this month, so two overlapping patent trials are now scheduled, which could be decisive in the two giants' multifaceted battle for power.
The first trial will start this week at the US International Trade Commission in Washington, but the disputes and appeals are likely still to be dragging on when a separate hearing starts in federal court in San Jose, California. The two firms are also pursuing many of the same claims, focused on alleged patents infringement and design copying, in nine international courts in Europe, Australia and Asia.
The two firms have different approaches in the IPR wars. Apple has generally shown little interest in royalty settlements in its various attacks on Android players. It has aggressively sought injunctions against products and its main goal seems to be to weaken confidence in the Google OS and keep iDevice challengers off the shelves if possible. However, many judges have proved unsympathetic to early injunctions and even where firms like HTC have lost out in court, they have found workarounds before seeing their devices banned. However, the lengthy proceedings spread fear uncertainty and doubt about Android, and any positive judgements would put Apple in a strong position in eventual negotiations. Hefty licensing deals, like those Microsoft has signed with many Android OEMs, will disadvantage the open OS by adding to its cost burden.
Apple has focused heavily on alleged copying of its product design, especially by the Galaxy Tab, as well as on its patent holdings, many concerned with the user interface and other software elements. It has been able to force Samsung to delay or modify Galaxy products in some countries, including Australia and the Netherlands, though the ITC is the most important testing ground as it can block all imports to the huge US market.
Samsung's strength, by contrast, lies with fundamental wireless IPR, in many cases essential to standards. Such patents are hard to work around, should Apple be found to infringe them, but they limit the holder's freedom to set licensing terms, as they are governed by Frand (fair reasonable and non-discriminatory) rules. Samsung is under investigation by the European Union over Frand policies. Most of the Korean firm's court actions have been defensive, fired off as retaliations to Apple actions.
In the end, the two firms, which control about half of the global smartphone market between them, are almost certain to find a settlement, even if that proved beyond their respective CEOs. "This about brinkmanship and bargaining position," Rodney Sweetland, a patent lawyer with ITC specialist Duane Morris, told Bloomberg. "They both have too much to lose and too much to gain to not make a settlement."
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