SEOUL, KOREA — On April 17, 2012 United States District Judge Lucy Koh ordered Samsung Electronics and Apple Inc. to the negotiating table to discuss the possibility of a settlement. The mediation will be attended by Apple CEO Tim Cook and Samsung CEO ChoiGee-Sung, in addition each company's respective general counsel. However, it remains to be seen whether this could be the end of the acrimonious patent suit between the two electronics giants. The two companies are currently involved in litigation 9 different countries.
Apple filed suit against Samsung in California in April of last year. The lawsuit addresses alleged patent infringement of Apple's iPhone and iPad products. The Apple filing states that "rather than innovate and develop its own technology and a unique Samsung style for its smart phone products and computer tablet" and that "the copying is so pervasive, that the Samsung Galaxy products appear to be actual Apple products." The lawsuit covers trade dress infringement issues, from icons to packaging, as well as patent infringements related to scrolling and display functions. Apple has filed similar suits against HTC and Motorola, in what has seen by many as an attempt to maintain dominance in the fiercely competitive handheld market. Samsung filed countersuit almost immediately for a total of 10 different patent violations related to transmission technology, efficiency systems, and software patent infringement. Despite a year of litigation in multiple countries, there has been little headway made in regards to settling the legal battle. In an endless game of legal ping-pong, Apple has been granted preliminary injunctions in Germany and Australia only to have sales bans lifted later. Likewise Samsung has been unsuccessful in obtaining bans against iPhone and iPad products. Just a day after Judge Koh ordered settlement mediation, Samsung filed another patent infringement suit against Apple. Samsung holds over 30,000 patents in the U.S. In 2011, Samsung edged out Apple in smartphone sales, but the tablet market remains dominated by Apple's iPad. Media coverage of the lawsuits has given Samsung a great deal of publicity and put the Galaxy Tab on a competitive level with the iPad. However, the legal proceedings have also opened Samsung up to investigation regarding possible violations of the EU's antitrust regulations.
Some regard Apple's litigation with Samsung and other handheld companies as an attack by proxy on the iOS' largest competitor, Google's Android. Prior to his death, Steve Jobs swore to take down Android, declaring it a "stolen product". Unlike Apple's closed system iOS, Android's open source code is available to multiple manufacturers. Apple's closed source business model makes it fundamentally difficult for the electronics superpower to compete with Google.
There is, however, good reason for both of companies to strive to put an end to the lengthy litigation. While Samsung and Apple are fierce competitors in the handheld market, their relationship is a symbiotic one. Samsung provides integral components for Apple products such as the iPad. Apple is Samsung's biggest client and their business relationship is said to be worth over USD 7 billion. Not only are the two companies dependent on one another, the legal fees amassed in the litigation process are astronomical. It has been estimated that the companies have incurred USD 400 million in legal fees. These are funds that could have been used on product development. Legal fees could also undoubtedly affect the price of products. While the actual willingness of Apple and Samsung to come to a settlement has yet to be seen, one thing seems certain. If the costly legal battle continues, regardless of which company wins, it will be the consumers who lose.