Published: 1 August, 2012
Apple and Samsung kicked off their San Jose trial, playing for billion-dollar stakes and the balance of power in the smartphone business. They set out their opening arguments in the 'trial of rectangles', which seeks to set legal boundaries between creativity and competition.
In the California federal court, the first day mainly focused on Apple's claims that Samsung has infringed its design and technology patents. Apple sued its Korean arch-rival in April 2011, citing a long list of alleged violations of design and software features of the iPhone or iPad. Samsung countersued a few days later and the two cases have been incorporated into a single process, and also pruned back considerably, under the orders of Judge Lucy Koh.
Both firms were playing one-upmanship in the innovator stakes, Apple arguing that it had changed the norms of the mobile device business, only to see Samsung copy it; Samsung saying it invented and still supplies many of the components of those Apple offerings, such as the admired RetinaDisplay.
Apple's lead attorney Harold McElhinny of Morrison & Foerster, said his client was "literally betting their company" when it went into smartphones, while for Samsung, it was "easier to copy than to innovate. It's far less risky". Showing a series of photos of Samsung handsets from 2006 to 2010 he sought to say that their design changed radically and "Samsung decided simply to copy every element of the iPhone".
Specifically, Apple says its frenemy copied user interface features like pinch-to-zoom, as well as the basic design of a rectangle with rounded corners, neutral border, thin bezel and flush glass surface. This look and feel is described in Apple design patents but the fairly generic qualities have led to Samsung executives complaining that this is a "trial about rectangles", and that nobody could claim a "monopoly on a rectangle."
Apple also presented documents which it claimed were evidence that Samsung set out to copy its products, including an analysis of the iPhone with a note saying: "HW [hardware] portion: Easy to copy." It went on to say that consumers confuse Samsung's products with Apple's because of the similarities, hitting its sales.
Samsung's lead attorney, Charles Verhoeven of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, acknowledged his client had been "inspired" by the iPhone and iPad but said that was inevitable in the consumer products sector, and that Apple had been similarly influenced by other players when creating its designs. "Being inspired by a good product and seeking to make even better products ... is called competition. It's not copying, it's not infringement," Verhoeven said.
Samsung will also argue that Apple's patents are invalid, partly by showing earlier products that used features Apple is claiming as its own - citing the Hewlett-Packard TC1000 tablet from a decade ago, and a rectangular tablet with rounded corners, designed by Roger Fidler in 1994.
Samsung will also pursue its own patent infringement claims against Apple, focusing on the fundamental mobile IPR in which it is far stronger than its rival. The patents include one covering the ability to email photos from a phone, and Verhoeven showed a video of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs demonstrating that feature at the iPhone launch.
In a twist, Samsung publicly released material that Koh had barred from being shown to jurors during the trial, and which it claims shows that the iPhone was derived from earlier concept designs by Sony. Koh was said to be "livid" that, while this evidence had been barred from court, it was still distributed to the media.
Samsung lawyer John Quinn further irritated the judge by filing a motion in court concerning the excluded documents, saying: "The Judge's exclusion of evidence on independent creation meant that even though Apple was allowed to inaccurately argue to the jury that the F700 was an iPhone copy, Samsung was not allowed to tell the jury the full story and show the pre-iPhone design for that and other phones that were in development at Samsung in 2006, before the iPhone. The excluded evidence would have established beyond doubt that Samsung did not copy the iPhone design. Fundamental fairness requires that the jury decide the case based on all the evidence." Such tactics risk alienating Koh, but could lay the trail for a future appeal on the grounds of unfairness.