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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The ABCs of Apple v. Samsung

There are five drama-laden days of hearings coming up this week in the patent battle between the two tech titans. Here are some bite-sized takeaways to help keep you in the know.


To casual observers, patent disputes too often prove impenetrable -- with their arcane legal arguments and mind-numbing technical detail.

Apple v. Samsung, however, has been as good a courtroom drama as Silicon Valley has to offer.

We've seen lawyers snapping at the judge. One of Samsung's lawyers literally begged the court to reverse a ruling. A steady stream of juicy trade secrets has flowed out of both companies in the form of courtroom exhibits. And somewhere just offstage waits a third powerful player.

CNET broke the news last week that Google, the company that isn't a party to the suit but has plenty at stake, is lending aid to Samsung as well as other Android partners that Apple has named in similar patent suits.

Trust us, as we go into a full week of new courtroom testimony, there's still plenty of action left. Here are some key facts to help you stay on top of it all.

How did this start? You can trace the clash back to January 9, 2007, when the iPhone debuted. Apple said in a lawsuit it filed against Samsung in April 2011 that within a couple of years of Apple's releasing the iPhone, Samsung had created iPhone clones that ripped off Apple's technology and designs. Apple also claims Samsung did the same thing after the iPad came out. Samsung responded by countersuing Apple for patent infringement.

What's at stake? Apple wants $2.5 billion if it wins. Samsung is also seeking monetary damages. What this case is really about, though, is stopping Google and its Android operating system. Steve Jobs, the late Apple co-founder and CEO, said before dying last October that he wanted to destroy Android because he considered it a "wholesale" ripoff of the iPhone.

If Apple wins, the company's lawyers will first be able to force Samsung to stop shipping some of its handsets and computer tablets in the United States but more importantly, Apple will have a nice precedent with which to attack HTC and other companies that use Android. If Apple loses, then the decision will obviously work against Apple's larger anti-Android strategy.

Why doesn't Apple sue Google?: One likely reason is that Android is free and Google doesn't profit directly from sharing the OS with phone makers. Samsung, on the other hand, chooses to use Android and is generating revenue upon which Apple can calculate damages.

Samsung also makes for an easier target. Apple can compare the iPhone with Samsung's handsets side by side.

Some of the more compelling evidence that Apple has shown to the jury includes side-by-side comparisons of the two company's icons and graphics. Apple has also presented internal e-mails and documents that show Samsung closely studied the iPhone and knew that its own handsets were inferior to Apple's. Apple argues that these documents prove Samsung was trying to mimic the iPhone.Has Apple landed any punches? Apple seems to have the edge when it comes to which side the court favors. In June, the presiding judge in the case granted preliminary injunctions against Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet. In addition, Samsung has received four sanctions mostly related to failure to turn over evidence.

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