While Apple's charges that Samsung copied the iPhone grab most of the headlines, Samsung levels its own charges: Apple infringed on its patents.
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The Apple vs. Samsung Electronics case in U.S. District Court illustrates something in addition to the fact that you'll get in trouble if you produce a device that too closely resembles an iPhone. It also shows why companies keep portfolios of patents in case they ever get sued.
Apple filed suit against Samsung April 15, 2011. Two-and-a-half months later, Samsung countersued, claiming Apple had infringed five of its patents. Samsung is at an immediate disadvantage in the exchange. It did not meet with Apple in advance of filing suit to say that it thought Apple was violating its patents and seek to resolve the issue, as Apple had done several times with Samsung. So its counterstrike looks to some, including, possibly, some members of the jury, like retaliation.
Nevertheless, Samsung has made significant contributions to the development of wireless networks and owns a portfolio of patents. Everyone is well acquainted with Apple's claim that Samsung copied the iPhone and iPad. How exactly does Samsung claim Apple infringed its patents? And how will it get around the appearance that it's come up with counterclaims, whether there's merit to them or not?
So the case unfolding in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., is really two cases in one. Apple has sued Samsung over infringement of seven patents and two trade-dress issues. Trade dress describes how a company brings its product to market and whether another company is copying its approach so closely that an ordinary consumer might mistake the product of the copier for that of the originator. Samsung is suing Apple over five patents, two of which are related to technologies that became standard in 3G networks, on which the iPhone and other devices rely.
Judge Lucy Koh ordered the two companies to combine their suits into one case and narrow their claims. That case resumes Friday after a two-day break in testimony in the crowded, low-slung Robert F. Peckham federal court building in San Jose. During the break, Samsung released to select members of the press a document citing Sony precedents for the iPhone design after Koh refused to allow it to be admitted into evidence. Koh called on the attorney who authorized the release, John Quinn, to explain his actions.
Judging by the scant amount of attention paid to the infringement claims in Apple's opening statement--its lead attorney never directly responded to the charges--Apple isn't too worried.
But Samsung's Charles Verhoeven, among other things, said he plans to call the parties who programmed particular components going into the iPhone to illustrate how Apple is using Samsung technology. Samsung's status as a key component supplier to the iPhone may help it hit the right notes on this part of the case. The programmers' testimony, Verhoeven asserts, will illustrate that Apple indeed uses Samsung-patented technology without ever acknowledging to Samsung that it is doing so.
Verhoeven's comments were provocative enough to prompt Apple attorney Harold McElhinny to ask why, if Apple was infringing, Samsung hadn't challenged Apple on the issue. Verhoeven's answer came quickly, with some force and conviction: "The major part of our business is with Apple. We're not in the habit of suing our closest business partners."
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