Lawsuits between multi-billion dollar corporations are dramatic affairs. When the world's top smartphone manufacturers duke it out in court, it's an outright soap opera. Savor the melodrama as Apple and Samsung wrap up the first week of their latest battle over patents.
Opening arguments between Apple and Samsung started on Tuesday. Evidence was introduced, strong stances were taken and jurors attuned to the case that each company wants to portray. This is all normal activity for a patent lawsuit, even if the rhetoric coming from overly dramatic lawyers was a little heavier than usual. Each company has a huge position to argue and defend, and the lawyers can be forgiven if their arguments sound like they are coming out of a Law & Order episode.
That is when the proceedings started to get strange.
Samsung, in its bid to undermine Apple’s case and perhaps steer the proceedings to a mistrial (which would benefit the South Korean device manufacturer), started leaking evidence of the case to the press. The Verge, an online technology publication, stated that it did not ask Samsung for the information but found court documents in its inbox nonetheless.
Some of the evidence sent to the media was rejected by the court. That includes a Samsung prototype phone called the F700, a concept that was supposedly in development before Apple announced the iPhone at the beginning of 2007. If Samsung was indeed developing its own touchscreen smartphone before it knew about the iPhone, the fact would help Samsung defend itself from allegations that it “slavishly” copied Apple’s designs and patents.
Apple’s lawyers were furious that Samsung leaked rejected evidence to the media. Their reaction was extreme, asking the court to sanction Samsung and rule immediately in favor of Apple's claim of infringement (about $2.52 billion in damages). Samsung argued that it was being denied from presenting its full case to the court. Judge Lucy Koh denied Apple’s request and the case continued with more evidence introduced by both Apple and Samsung as the week went along.
Apple is notoriously secretive when it comes to its sales numbers and marketing spending. No tech company is more protective of its inner workings. There are several instances in the last few years where Apple has reacted harshly to leaks, such as when tech publication Gizmodo obtained a prototype of an iPhone 4 that was lost in a bar near Apple's Cupertino campus. Police raided a Gizmodo editor’s house at the company's behest and seized computers and other evidence. Apple seemingly becomes hysterical when its secrets are on the verge of being discovered.
So it came as no surprise that Apple reacted adversely to evidence submitted by Samsung over a consumer survey and sales figures. Apple claimed the survey and sales results of its customers where “trade secrets” and asked for a five-day stay of the trial if the evidence was allowed. Judge Koh allowed the survey and sales documents into the case without a reprieve for Apple. Samsung used the documents on Friday when it cross-examined Apple senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller.
At the time of this publication, Schiller was still on the stand being cross-examined by Samsung.
The blow-by-blow between Apple and Samsung makes for some interesting theater. Apple is trying to paint itself as the righteous inventor of a popular product line whose blueprint Samsung stole for its own mobile devices. But there is some paranoia evident in Apple’s requests for a summary judgment and stay. Meanwhile, Samsung plays the snake, trying to throw Apple’s own arguments back in its face, playing its case up to the media (a tactic Apple almost never uses in its patent battles) and trying as hard as it can to make a spectacle of the proceedings. The more of a circus the case becomes, especially in the media, the better Samsung's chance of influencing the jury.
Judge Koh is caught between the maneuvering giants. So far she has been even-handed, admonishing both sides for “ridiculous” objections while trying to keep the timeline on target. Koh admonished Samsung’s lawyers for the company's antics this week, but it is telling that she denied Apple’s request for immediate judgment and then allowed the survey and sales results into evidence. Koh is holding to standard rules of discovery that are designed to prevent either side from gaining an unfair advantage. She has mitigated any home-court advantage that Apple may have thought it had.
When it comes to billion-dollar trials, there is no bigger battle than the one taking place between Apple and Samsung this week and next. Stay tuned.