Apple Vs. Samsung: Opening Day In $2.5 Billion Case
Samsung fears shadow of Steve Jobs will influence jurors in the heart of Apple country. Judge Koh says no and go; jury selection tries to move case forward.
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A panel of 10 jurors was chosen at the end of the first day of trial in the case of Apple Inc. Vs. Samsung Electronics Ltd. et al. Apple claims it's suffered $2.5 billion in damages from patent infringement, with the claim lodged against the company producing the Galaxy S III, which is selling strongly in the smartphone market.
The jury selection process took place under the no-nonsense eye of Judge Lucy Koh. In the process of guarding against undue Apple influence, she illustrated through questioning how this trial is taking place in the heart of Apple country. Several members in the prospective 70-member jury pool said they had once worked for Apple, had relatives currently working there, or had friends and neighbors who worked there.
When Koh polled the 18 prospects most likely to become part of the jury, two-thirds were users of Apple Macintoshes, iPods, and iPads, and a majority of prospective jurors used the iPhone rather than the Samsung Galaxy or other smartphones. The Samsung product most frequently mentioned by jurors was a TV; one prospective juror had to acknowledge that both his refrigerator and his 30-year-old microwave had been built by Samsung.
Koh solicited feedback to demonstrate both that potential jurors were well acquainted with the smartphone market and to determine whether any members of the pool were especially admiring or fanatical about Apple. None seemed to be and all Apple device users said they could be fair in assessing the case before them. But the process reached its pinnacle through Samsung's attorney, Bill Price. Given only 20 minutes to question jurors on their attitudes and convictions, he tried humor instead of eliciting responses.
He pointed out to a young woman who was thinking of buying the next-generation iPad that "other companies make tablets too," without adding Samsung makes its own model. But the prospective juror was not dissuaded. "I love the technology. You can sit around in the yard and play with it. Apple comes up with really, really nice stuff," she said.
Attempts at negotiating the differences between their companies have failed several times. In pushing its claim of damages into a jury trial in the U.S. District Court for Northern California, Apple may have sensed it might have a chance to convert its popularity among consumers into something resembling home-court advantage.
Koh, however, gave the jurors a thorough going over, questioning them on their jobs, prior associations, connections to either company, and whether they had been involved in getting or defending patents before. If someone had a friend at Apple, she asked how frequently they met and what they talked about, always followed by the demanding question: "Do you feel you can be fair and impartial and decide the case on the evidence presented in this courtroom?"
One prospect who was an Apple employee hesitated to answer when asked that question. He would naturally feel pressure for his employer to prevail in the case, he acknowledged, and the judge quickly excused him.
Another raised his hand to say no, he didn't feel he could be impartial. Later, in a conversation with the judge, he said: "My brother went to work for Apple soon after it was founded. My son works there now. We have followed Apple through its ups and down for 30 years. We're an Apple kind of family and I don't think I can be fair to Samsung," he said. He was excused upon revealing he had done consulting work for Apple as well. His son is part of Apple's legal staff but is not involved in the trial.
At the same time, another juror acknowledged his son was an economist at Google, but he stayed in the prospect pool. (He was not among the 10 selected.)
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