Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s patent dispute over wireless transmission technology is “ridiculous” and might be best settled in mediation, the judge overseeing the case in Australia said.
Samsung sued Apple claiming the maker of iPhones is infringing three patents covering data transmission over the 3G wireless spectrum. The suit was in response to Apple’s claim that Samsung stole its design ideas for computer tablets and phones. A trial scheduled to run for three months began today before Federal Court Justice Annabelle Bennett.
Apple refused to pay a license fee for the technology that allows phones to conduct multiple tasks including taking calls while uploading photos to the Internet, Samsung’s lawyer Neil Young said at the start of the trial. Apple was willing to pay and Samsung refused, the Cupertino, California-based company’s lawyer Stephen Burley said.
“Why on earth are these proceedings going ahead?” Bennett asked the lawyers in court today. “It’s just ridiculous.” A similar dispute between any other two companies would be immediately ordered to mediation, she said.
“Why shouldn’t I order the parties to mediation?” she asked. She said she would expect an answer before the end of the week.
The Australian trial is part of a global dispute between the two companies and a prelude to proceedings in the U.S. and U.K.
Samsung, the biggest maker of smartphones, and Apple, the largest seller of tablet computers, are fighting for an increased share of a handset market that Bloomberg Industries said was worth $312 billion last year. Apple has won a ban on the sale of Samsung’s Galaxy 10.1 tablet in the U.S. and failed to win a ban in the U.K., pending patent infringement trials in those countries.
“Both companies are fighting every single battle, no matter how small, with great intensity,” John Swinson, a partner specializing in intellectual property at King & Wood Mallesons in Brisbane, said in a phone interview.
Whatever the outcome of the trial, the losing side will probably appeal, Swinson said.
“You could say, they’re working out the issues for the appeal court.”
Fiona Martin, a spokeswoman for Apple in Sydney, declined to comment on the trial.
Apple has used a standard statement in the past saying “this kind of blatant copying is wrong and, as we’ve said many times before, we need to protect Apple’s intellectual property when companies steal our ideas.”
Samsung’s relationship with Apple broke down after the maker of iPhones sued the South Korean company in California, Young said today.
“Samsung has done nothing other than taken the steps to protect its patent rights,” Young said.
He urged Bennett to hold separate trials on Apple’s and Samsung’s claims.
“I don’t understand why,” Bennett responded. Young agreed to make the request again later.
Samsung contends Apples’ devices, including the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch media player infringe patents the Suwon, South Korea-based company says came from two decades of work that it spent improving mobile phones.
“All of these things that Samsung built up, Apple was using when it entered the market,” Samsung lawyer Charles Verhoeven of Quinn Emanuel said at the June 4 start of a trial at the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington.
The commission, a quasi-judicial body with the power to ban the import of products found to infringe patents or copyrights, has more than a dozen pending cases involving smartphones and tablet computers.
Trials in courts, where damages may be awarded for patent infringement, are pending in the U.S. and U.K. A German judge on March 2 rejected claims by both Apple and Samsung of patent infringement over technology used in tablets and mobile phones. More patent disputes are also pending in German courts.
The Australian case may be a rehearsal for the trials in bigger markets, Swinson said.
“It’s like an out-of-town show playing in Toronto before being brought to Broadway,” Swinson said. “Of course, success in Toronto doesn’t mean it’ll be a success on Broadway.”
Apple spent four months last year in a bid to keep the Galaxy 10.1 out of Australia, with the country’s highest court rejecting its request to ban the sales of the tablet in December.
The patent disputes began when Samsung released its Galaxy smartphones in 2010. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple who died Oct. 5, initiated contact with Samsung in July 2010 over his concerns that the Galaxy phones copied the iPhone, according to Richard Lutton, an Apple patent attorney.
Jobs wasn’t involved in the talks, which failed to resolve the dispute, Lutton said at a preliminary hearing in Sydney on Sept. 29.
Apple sued Samsung in federal court in Oakland, California, on April 15, claiming the Samsung phones and tablets infringed its patents and the trademarked look of the iPhone and iPad.
A U.K. judge said this month the Galaxy tablets aren’t “cool” enough to be confused with the iPad and allowed their sale in the country.
The two companies have filed at least 30 lawsuits against each other, according to Samsung.
Samsung is the largest component supplier for Apple. The company gets about 8.8 percent of its total revenue from selling memory chips, displays and other components for products such as the iPhone and iPad, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The case is: Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. (005930) NSD1243/2011. Federal Court of Australia (Sydney).
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