updated 09:30 pm EDT, Fri June 17, 2011
Could pave the way for a settlement
At a hearing today in San Jose, Apple's attorney Harold McElhinny revealed that executives "at the highest levels" of Apple and Samsung have been meeting and talking about ways to resolve their various patent-infringement lawsuits. Despite the close relationship between the two companies, they have been locked in various patent claims and counter-claims for several months.
The hearing on Friday was meant to address procedural matters and complaint amendments, but the revelation that the companies were already talking came after presiding Judge Lucy Koh suggested that, given the close business relationship of the two companies (Apple is Samsung's second-biggest semiconductor customer), both should seek an alternative settlement rather than a jury trial.
COO Tim Cook had mentioned in Apple's 2Q analyst conference call that Apple had originally sought a settlement with Samsung over the patent issues before deciding to go to court. Apple originally sued Samsung in April, claiming that both the design and software elements of Samsung's Galaxy line of smartphones and tablets copied themselves too closely from Apple's products, even down to the distinctive retail packaging.
Samsung promptly counter-sued, accusing Apple of violating several of its own patents. Last month, Apple won the right to examine several as-yet-unreleased future Samsung products in order to determine if patent violations were continuing. Samsung has filed a request to do the same with unreleased Apple products, but Apple claimed that this was an attempt to "harass" the notoriously secretive company. Judge Koh did not rule on Samsung's request.
As a customer of Samsung, Apple would in fact have had to supply the company with technical specifications, drawings, prototypes and other details of what where then unreleased products, whereas Samsung would not have had to do the same for Apple -- putting Samsung in a position where it could be charged with stealing designs and ideas from Apple's products in time to produce similar-looking products that appear very shortly after the Apple product debuted, in some cases beating Apple to certain markets.
Apple, in its lawsuits, has called particular attention to the similarity of the Galaxy Tab smartphone and tablet, as well as the icons used by Samsung to denote various applications and system functions, a number of which are nearly identical to the Apple icons for such apps as the phone, notes, settings, and even the music player. The company also used Friday's hearing to expand its complaint against Samsung, listing additional patents it believes the company is violating, along with specific models that it says are infringing.
Apple and Samsung respectively have at least three separate court cases pending in the same U.S. District Court for Northern California. Settlement talks, if successful, could produce an agreement that would end all the litigation similar to the one Apple recently negotiated with Nokia.