For Apple, A Limited Victory Against Samsung In Infringement Case

May 2, 2014
Originally published on May 3, 2014 10:17 am

In a case between tech giants Apple and Samsung, a jury has issued a mixed verdict. The decision marks only the latest in an ongoing struggle over patents between the two companies, a struggle that is expected to see its next skirmish at the Supreme Court later this year.

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In Silicon Valley, the latest smartphone patent battle between Apple and Samsung has yielded mixed legal results. Late today, a federal jury found Samsung guilty of violating two Apple software patents. But it was limited victory. The jury did not find Samsung guilty of violating three other patents that were an issue. And it did find Apple guilty of infringing some of Samsung's patents. The jury awarded Apple just under $120 million and gave Samsung just $158,000.

NPR's Laura Sydell has been following the trial, and she joins me now. And, Laura, Samsung and Apple have been after each other in court several times over patents. Explain what was at issue in this particular trial.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Well, they sure have. I just want to say it's important to remember that the late founder and Apple CEO Steve Jobs felt very strongly that Samsung and Google, which makes the Android operating system for Samsung phones, had copied the innovations made by Apple. And he vowed to spend all of Apple's cash fighting Samsung and Google and making them pay. And, though, Google was not an actual defendant in this trial, their engineers were often on the witness stand because all of the patents Apple used were software patents. Therefore, they were part of Google's Android operating system. Many people saw this case as a test case for an eventual direct suit against Google, though Apple claims that is not true.

The patents were things like autocorrect or the way you're cell phone recognizes it when you start to type a phone number, and you press it and it just knows to call or slide to unlock the phone. At the moment, only, you know, two of the various patents were actually found to violate Apple's rights.

SIEGEL: Yeah. This was a very mixed verdict. Do you think there's any significance to the patents that the jury found Samsung was guilty of infringing?

SYDELL: It's an interesting question. One of the patents, the slide to unlock, was actually invalidated in Germany where the Germans cited prior art. And, in general, you know, software patents are less easy to come by in Europe. The other patent, the tap to dial a phone number, is one that actually could be vulnerable after a Supreme Court decision comes down later this year, which may make the standards for software patents in the U.S. much tighter.

Samsung also had a victory, and it had a patent of the way photos are stored on a phone. The jury found Apple had infringed. That - I don't know that Apple will appeal that because if they appeal it, it might make some of their own patents vulnerable.

SIEGEL: Laura, what, if anything, does this verdict mean for ordinary smartphone customers?

SYDELL: You know, the truth is, it may not mean that much. (Laughing). You know, I know that Apple has tried to get Samsung to get their actual phones banned, and they have not been successful. And I don't think they're going to be successful here. Plus, it take so long for these cases to get to trial that by the time they do, we're dealing with very old phones. So we were dealing, in this case, with the Galaxy S3, which is an older version of the phone. They're already on the 5. What it means is they spent a lot of money, millions and millions of dollars, that won't go into research and development or making better products for you and me. I don't think we're going to see that much difference on the shelf.

SIEGEL: When it came to damages, Samsung got $150,000. Apple got $120 million, which, I guess, in Silicon Valley, is almost a lot of money. Can either side really claim victory here?

SYDELL: You know, I - both will try and spin it, but the last time they went to trial, Apple got nearly a billion dollars in damages. This is nothing like that. Samsung maybe in that way could see it as a victory. Clearly, they - Apple didn't get the $2 billion it originally asked for. And they actually won on one patent. So I think it would be leaning toward Samsung looking better after this trial.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Laura.

SYDELL: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Laura Sydell reporting on the mixed jury verdict today in the trial - the case between Samsung and Apple. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.