SAN FRANCISCO: Two tech titans will square off in federal court today in a closely watched trial over control of the U.S. smart phone and computer tablet markets.
Apple Inc. filed a lawsuit against Samsung Electronics Co. last year alleging the world’s largest technology company’s smart phones and computer tablets are illegal knockoffs of its popular iPhone and iPad products. The Cupertino company is demanding $2.5 billion in damages, an award that would dwarf the largest patent-related verdict to date.
The South Korean giant counters that Apple is doing the stealing and that some of the technology at issue — such as rounded rectangular designs of phones and tablets — has been industry standards for years.
The U.S. trial is just the latest skirmish between the two over product designs. A similar trial began last week, and the two companies have been fighting in courts in the United Kingdom and Germany. The case is one of some 50 lawsuits among myriad telecommunications companies jockeying for position in the burgeoning $219 billion market for smart phones and computer tablets.
U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose last month ordered Samsung to pull its Galaxy 10.1 computer tablet from the U.S. market pending the outcome of the trial, though the judge barred Apple attorneys from telling the jurors about the ban.
“That’s a pretty strong statement from the judge and shows you what she thinks about some of Apple’s claims,” said Bryan Love, a Santa Clara University law professor and patent expert. Love said that even though the case will be decided by 10 jurors, the judge has the authority to overrule their decision if she thinks they got it wrong.
“In some sense the big part of the case is not Apple’s demands for damages but whether Samsung gets to sell its products,” said Mark A. Lemley, a Stanford Law School professor and director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science, and Technology.
Lemley also said a verdict in Apple’s favor could send a message to consumers that Android-based products such as Samsung’s are in legal jeopardy. A verdict in Samsung’s favor, especially if it prevails on its demands that Apple pay its asking price to certain transmission technology it controls, could lead to higher-priced Apple products.
Lemley and other legal observers say it’s rare that a patent battle with so much at stake doesn’t settle short of a trial. Court-ordered mediation sessions attended by Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook and high-ranking Samsung officials failed to resolve the legal squabble, leading to a highly technical trial of mostly expert witnesses opining on patent laws and technology.
Lemley, Love and others say it also appears that Apple was motivated to file the lawsuit, at least in part, by its late founder’s public avowals that companies using Android to create smart phones and other products were brazenly stealing from Apple. To that end, Samsung’s attorneys made an unsuccessful pitch to have the jury hear excerpts from Steve Jobs’ authorized biography.
“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,” Jobs is quoted as saying in Walter Isaacson’s book Steve Jobs published in November. “I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”