Apple’s Proxy War Against Google Officially Out of Hand with Apple V. Samsung : LXBN Roundtable

By | LXBN | August 14, 2012

Apple fired the first salvo against Samsung on April 11, 2011, alleging the Korean-based electronic giant infringed upon Apple’s iPhone and iPad designs. After over a year of motions, counter-suits and appeals, Apple and Samsung are finally getting their day in court, as opening arguments got underway July 30th. But with just under two weeks of scheduled trial proceedings remaining, this battle of tech behemoths is quickly coming to a close.

While intellectual property disputes of this size and magnitude are often settled before jurors, whose technological prowess begins and ends with e-mailing, can reach a decision, Apple v. Samsung is a different sort of case. As Grant Yim, guest blogger on Korea Law Today, was quick to point out, Apple’s vendeta against Samsung is fueled by deep pockets and an even deeper hatred of the Android operating system:

“Steve Jobs was known to keep anything related to Apple shrouded in secrecy. However, in his authorized biography by Walter Isaacson, which released almost three weeks after his death, he revealed: “I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong.

[…] I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go to thermonuclear war on this.” The destroying-Android portion of his vow is also inevitably a declaration of war against Samsung, as they are the top handset manufacturer in the United States and happens to run their smartphones on the Android platform.”

As Apple’s largest competitor in the smartphone and tablet industry, Samsung represents Android’s (and by proxy, Google’s) best hope to capture a significant share of one of the most profitable and fastest growing markets in the world.  Although both company’s CEOs attempted to reconcile their differences through mediation, it seemed inevitable this case would end up before of a jury.

And it’s not just the Korean people that are unnerved by the potential fallout of Apple v. Samsung.  The overly litigious smartphone market (and the technology industry as a whole) has spawned a new era of patent disputes.  One that Lewis Silver, an intern with The Brickhouse Law Group, finds erily similar to the arms race prompted by the invention of the nuclear bomb:

“There are a staggering number of parallels between the nuclear arms race of the 20th century, and the telecomm-patents arms race that has emerged in recent years. At the outset, the arms race model is essentially the same: (1) collect experts in your field (be it theoretical physics or Java language coding); (2) design some technology that your competitors lack (be it a fission trigger or a touchscreen heuristics package); (3) consolidate control over that technology (and it can’t hurt to exclude access of potential competitors); and (4) leverage that control against your opponents to protect your own interests (be they geopolitical dominance or smartphone market-share).”

Google’s $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola, and by extension their 17,000 patents, is indicative of this pattern of patent stockpiling.  In this case, Samsung is just collateral damage in the war.

In a similar vein, Maxwell Kennerly, author of Litigation & Trial, put together an interesting post on three of the most hotly contested cases in the smartphone industry (Oracle v. Google, Apple v. Motorola, and Apple v. Samsung) and how they’ve impacted patent litigation.  Specifically, Kennerly discussed the role of public relations and judicial oversight in the ongoing dispute between Apple and Samsung:

“The Apple v. Samsung trial is going on right now (it seems CNET puts up another post every few hours), but it has already produced a fascinating, if a bit disturbing, exchange in which Judge Koh repeatedly denied Samsung’s efforts to introduce evidence showing that certain Samsung designs predated the iPhone. Samsung took the issue to the press,releasing the slides they wanted to show the jury during opening statements — incurring Judge Koh’s wrath and a sanctions motion from Apple, and necessitating an affidavit from Samsung attorney John Quinn explaining how the information was released.”

The flip side of that PR battle is the freeness with which journalists and courtroom observers are able to relay information in real-time.  LexBlog’s own CEO, Kevin O’Keefe put together this list of reporters covering the courtroom proceedings using Twitter.  While Mashable assembled a smattering of tweets published during the opening arguments.

And the case has caught the attention of more than just tech junkies and lawyers on Twitter.  Conan O’Brien spoofed the dispute on his show with this video during his monologue:

For a case that’s been called the “patent trial of the decade” the publicity and interest seems fitting, and at the moment there appears to be no clear favorite.  With ten scheduled days of courtroom proceedings remaining, lawyers from both sides are undoubtedly searching for any edge they can find (as well they should, considering their hourly rate).  For the average consumer, however, the question is one of choice.

The iPhone and iPad are transcendent peices of technology.  They will remain a part of our technological lexicon, much like the first generation of cell phones, long after they’ve become obsolete.  But, as Samsung’s lead attorney Charles Verhoeven has been quick to argue, innovation is supposed to inspire the competition not handcuff them.

Instead, the current trend in patent litigation forces lawyers, whose hourly wage is equivalent to some people’s monthly income, to quibble over rounded edges and rectangular shapes.  The fact is, anyone buying a smartphone or tablet knows what the iPad and iPhone look like.  Even a U.K. judge conceded that Samsung’s products just aren’t as “cool” as Apple’s.  In the absence of blatant copycatting, perhaps we should let consumers make that same decision.