Samsung Bites into Apple as Mobile Communications Patent Wars Continue

Samsung Bites into Apple as Mobile Communications Patent Wars Continue

Dan Whalen is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

In a blitz of lawsuits, Samsung Electronics has gone from defendant to plaintiff as it counter-sued Apple over alleged infringement of its mobile communications technology. Amid the field’s patent wars, one wonders how this battle between long-time allies will end.

Samsung filed lawsuits in South Korea, Japan and Germany on April 22, 2011, and then filed another suit in the U.S. on April 27, 2011. The initial batch claim infringement of ten Samsung patents related to communication standards and technology that connects mobile phones to personal computers for wireless data transfers, while the U.S. suit specifically targets 3G iPhones, the iPod Touch and first- and second-generation iPads. Naturally, Samsung demands a halt to the alleged infringement and compensation for damages.

“Samsung is responding actively to the legal action taken against us in order to protect our intellectual property and to ensure our continued innovation and growth in the mobile communications business,” the South Korean company offered in a statement following the initial three lawsuits.

Such incentive was provided by Apple by way of a lawsuit filed on April 15, 2011, claiming infringement of seven patents related to how Samsung’s Galaxy devices interpret user gestures – such as selecting, scrolling, pinching and zooming – and the devices’ design, which is similar to the flat black face of the iPhone and iPad. Apple seeks an injunction against further use of its patents and trademarks and compensation for damages.

Complicating matters is the deep-seeded symbiosis joining the two companies. During Apple’s most recent quarterly earnings call, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer, Tim Cook, noted that the company is Samsung’s second-largest customer and that it, in turn, is “a very valued component supplier for us.” Said James Song, analyst at Daewoo Securities: “[B]oth know that they need each other. Apple can't suddenly change to other company for supplies of memory chips and mobile processors, because there's no one able to meet Apple's requirement in terms of technology and capacity other than Samsung.” Adds Chang Sea Jin, a business professor at National University of Singapore, “Apple may try to diversify their suppliers and reduce their reliance on Samsung, but no other company has as low costs as Samsung, so Apple won’t likely drop Samsung altogether.”

Some feel that Apple may have been facetious in its instigating lawsuit. “Apple is trying to annoy Samsung – they’re throwing a ball at Samsung to keep them in check,” said Chang. While cynical, such an opinion accurately reflects the nature of much of the litigation in this field. Given the companies’ mutual, significant reliance on continued partnership, the companies may indeed take each other’s points and decide to settle their differences.