Samsung is accused of infringing five Apple patents related to smartphone functions, and Apple is counter-accused of infringing two Samsung patents.
“The total damages are high,” said Harold McElhinny, a lawyer for Apple. “But I hope you understand the reason the damages are high is because the scope of Samsung’s infringement is massive.”
The case follows a similar high-profile patent infringement lawsuit in the same court that concluded earlier this year with two juries ordering Samsung to pay Apple a total of US$929 million in damages.
While the patents and phones are different in this case, the trial kicked off on Tuesday morning in much the same way as the previous two trials with McElhinny asking jurors “Where were you on 9 January 2007?”
Jurors were shown a video of the Macworld Expo 2007 keynote by Steve Jobs at which he introduced the iPhone and demonstrated at least one of the features under contention in the case: the slide-to-unlock method to access the phone and prevent pocket dialling.
“Once the iPhone went on sale, Samsung pretty quickly realised two things,” said McElhinny. “The iPhone was taking the world by storm, consumers loved it, iPhones followed by iPads were literally flying off shelves. The other recognition was that it simply didn’t have a product that could compete.”
Apple’s case relies heavily, just as it did last time, on internal Samsung documents that lawyers were able to obtain once the lawsuit was filed. In many of the documents shown in court on Tuesday, Samsung designers repeatedly referenced the iPhone when discussing features in their own handsets.
In one Samsung document, labelled a user interface road map, Samsung appears to have cut-and-pasted a graphic from an Apple website when proposing a system that would recognise things like phone numbers and email addresses, and offer users a contextual menu, which is another of the technologies at the centre of the case.
Samsung wasted no time in its opening statement firing back at Apple.
“Apple is a great company, but they don’t own everything,” said John Quinn, an attorney for Samsung.
He blasted the US$2 billion damages figure, accusing Apple of putting “that number out there, in your heads so that is the damages horizon you are thinking of” and told the jury it was a “gross, gross exaggeration and an insult to your intelligence”.
While Samsung is the defendant in the case, the outcome could have a further reach.
Some of the functions are widely used in Android phones, so an Apple victory could force changes to Google’s Android operating system or give Apple a launch pad for further lawsuits.
At a higher level, the case and others like it have highlighted what many feel are problems with the US patent system. Many feel that patents issued in recent years are often too broad or are being abused by holders to block competitors from entering a market.
These cases have resulted in a redirection of corporate investment with major companies spending more money on litigation, said Cheryl Milone, chairman and founder of Article One Partners, an online patent validation community.
“While worldwide brands and small companies alike view their own companies’ patents as having a high quality level, there is a widespread belief that there are many low quality patents causing a thicket. This further impacts innovation as meritorious advancements are buried in this thicket and the public has to pay monopoly pricing and the costs to the public of litigation,” she said.
The six-woman, four-man jury is expected to hear the case over Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays for the rest of April, after which deliberations will begin.
The case is 12-00630, Apple vs Samsung Electronics et al, in the US District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose.
by Martyn Williams, IDG News