Who's the patent bully now? Apple or Samsung?

Samsung and Apple are two of the most popular smartphone and tablet manufacturers in the world right now and those top spots don’t come without responsibilities. But there's a disconnection somewhere in the corporate brains, with the companies seeing these responsibilities as green lights to be at each other’s throat in every major market over patents -- all that the cost of customer choice and satisfaction.

The latest round in the never-ending patent war between Samsung and Apple began today in Australia, where a local Judge started hearing evidence on their latest legal dispute. Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple claims patent infringement. The two companies dispute whether the touchscreen technology used by Samsung’s Galaxy Tab 10.1 violates Apple owned patents. The South Korean manufacturer's counter-claim: Apple uses 3G patents without a license, which is supposed to be available on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory (FRAND) terms.

Mediate, Don't Litigate

Judge Annabelle Bennett, overseeing the trial made bold statements today: “Why on earth are these proceedings going ahead? It’s just ridiculous”, claiming that a similar dispute between other parties would call for a mediation, furthermore questioning the parties: “Why shouldn’t I order the parties to mediation?” She's expecting an answer by the week's end and it's clear that she's not very eager to rule on the trial. It's a decision that should be applauded and one that's very reasonable considering the two parties have been fighting in courts for more than two years.

Apple claims that Samsung isn’t playing fair by demanding unreasonable FRAND licensing terms compared to the ones other parties have agreed to. Apple allegedly uses the 3G patents in the iPhone 4, iPhone 4S and the iPad 2 alike; iOS devices are the company's main source of revenue, making a finding in Samsung's favor and possible injunction a big problem in Down Under.

Apple claims that Samsung infringes three patents registered in Australia:

  • 2005239657, referring to “Method and apparatus for transmitting and receiving data with high reliability in a mobile communication system supporting packet data transmission“.
  • 2005202512 regarding the “Method and apparatus for data transmission in a mobile telecommunication system supporting enhanced uplink service”.
  • 2006241621 on “Method and apparatus for transmitting/receiving packet data using pre-defined length indicator in a mobile communication system”.

Broken Promises

Apple initially filed for infringement of seven patents, but the court reduced the number.

In preparation for the legal battle, the South Korean manufacturer ended an 18-year old agreement established since 1993 with Qualcomm. Samsung agreed not to sue the other parties or its customers over the use of the 3G patents, but broke the pact after Apple filed suit against Samsung in the United States over the Galaxy Tab 10.1. What’s actually very interesting is that Apple depends on Qualcomm to manufacture core components for their most important devices and they’re the ones that are causing the problem to themselves. Samsung isn’t fairing so well as far as FRAND patent suits go, however. The European Union is investigating them for breaching EU antitrust rules, so the battle is far from over for either party, despite any ruling in Australia.

Samsung clearly learned something from past disputes with Apple by gunning for popular products, as the sale of three very important devices from the Cupertino, Calif.-based company and one from the Korean based manufacturer are at stake here. The news comes coincidentally after Apple lost the trial against Samsung in the United Kingdom, with Judge Colin Birss ordering the U.S.-based company to run UK adverts stating that Galaxy Tab 10.1 does not copy the iPad.

HTC is gunning for Apple alike, with the smaller Android smartphone manufacturer winning a major legal battle in the United Kingdom against the US company, gaining a possible major advantage in future disputes as well.

Patent disputes are now never-ending legal battles with possible injunctions involved with each trial. What’s actually of concern is that Samsung is becoming exactly what people despise, a patent bully, by gunning for popular competing products. Isn't Apple bully enough? The South Korean makes an even worse impression by continuing on the wrong path. Samsung breaches agreements to fight against Apple, which started the problem by gunning for Samsung in the first place. The outcome: Customer choice, when injunctions are granted against products. Judge Bennett's request to consider mediation should be taken into account and honored by both parties.

Can they achieve patent peace? Or is Apple CEO Tim Cook's statement that he prefers to settle rather than sue made just to throw off everyone from their bullying behavior? For that matter, does Samsung want to change public opinion as to make people believe they’re copying Apple into becoming an even worse patent bully?

Photo Credit: HomeArt/Shutterstock

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