Higher stakes as Apple, Samsung return to San Jose court

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
07 Apr 2014

The latest round of Samsung's epic US patents battle with Apple has begun in the now-familiar federal courtroom in San Jose, California, where a 2012 jury awarded $1.05 billion in damages to the iPhone maker. There are other elements of déjà vu – same judge, virtually the same legal teams, many of the same witnesses and similar opening arguments, especially from Apple.

If anything, the stakes are even higher this time – Samsung is portraying Apple's infringement claims as nothing less than an assault on the whole Android platform; while Apple will argue that its competitor's copying has been so flagrant as to justify even higher damages than last time.

This time, it is seeking $2 billion from its nemesis, a claim which many feel is a bridge too far, especially after all the efforts of the increasingly exasperated judge, Lucy Koh, to get the two firms to reach a settlement. The size of the claim reinforces the perception that Apple is spending time and resources on litigating which could be going into innovation, and that it is looking to crush a rival, not just gain its dues for its own inventions.

Koh has presided over the 2012 trial and subsequent appeals (plus hearings to reconsider some of the damages awarded, and to hear arguments for an injunction). Indeed, Samsung still has outstanding appeals against the verdict. Now she faces about a month in the courtroom, and no doubt various appeals and follow-ups after that, no matter what the outcome. The rivals have patents battles in many countries, but the suits in Apple's Silicon Valley home have received the most attention and the biggest financial claims. This one centers on five Apple software patents, which the company claims are infringed by 10 Samsung products, including the Galaxy S3.

A feature of the IPR wars is they always lag behind actual handset cycles, given the slowness of legal process compared to the increasingly short life of smartphones. By the time the case is settled, the S3 is likely to be a relatively minor element of Samsung's revenues, with the S5 in full swing. Nonetheless, guilty verdicts hit a company's reputation as well as its bank account. For its part, Samsung alleges that nine Apple products, including the iPhone 5 and versions of the iPad and iPod, infringe two of its own patents. It is seeking a far more modest damages sum, however, at about $6.9 million.

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