Apple Raises the Stakes in Patent Battle With Samsung

Apple has amended its existing complaint against Samsung over intellectual property-rights violations, removing a few infringement claims but adding many more. FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller thinks the action is in response to Samsung's requests to see samples of the upcoming iPhone 5 and iPad 3 ahead not only of their release but also of official acknowledgement that the products are actually in development. Apple's legal counsel was granted access to unreleased Samsung hardware in the case, but the devices in question were already public knowledge and widely promoted.

Mueller says that while the original complaint—filed by Apple on Apr. 15 in U.S. District Court in Northern California—was "the most impressive multi-intellectual property rights complaint [he'd] ever seen," it's now "even bigger—the main document has 63 pages (previously 38)—and better." The changes aim to paint Samsung's infringement as blatant copycat behavior, asserting that Samsung, more than any other competitor, has been blatantly ripping off Apple designs since the very earliest days of the iPhone, circa 2007.

In addition to adding claims of specific infringement, Apple strengthened language throughout its filing. For example, it replaced the word "misappropriated" with "copied" in at least one instance, and it also cites many articles by prominent tech news publications about Samsung devices like the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Vibrant that make specific reference to Samsung's clear attempts at copying Apple product designs. Apple also added 14 specific Samsung product designations to the complaint by name, including the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Galaxy S II.

Distinguishing Brand from Product

Part of the amendment is intended to deflect Samsung's requests to have advance access to unreleased iPhone and iPad products. Apple originally talked about its trade dresses (a legal term referring to the visual appearance of a product or its packaging) for the iPhone and iPad lines in general, but the altered complaint now makes specific distinctions about iPhone as a brand vs. the iPhone 3G or iPhone 4, for example, which will help it deny the requests made by Samsung.

I asked Mueller about how this case compares with others, such as the Nokia-Apple legal battle that recently resulted in a big settlement for the Finnish smartphone maker. He said Apple-Samsung is unusual in that the case seems to have escalated faster than most, due in part to Samsung's rapid countersuit, which it filed not only in California but also in South Korea, Japan, and Germany. Also unusual is that Apple seems to be seeking "a preliminary injunction against the Galaxy product line," which Mueller says could "force a settlement very early in the process."

Mueller thinks the case isn't actually all that similar to the Nokia-Apple battle, because he believes "Nokia has a much stronger smartphone-related patent portfolio than Samsung." He does believe Apple is prepared to go far with this claim, however, since he thinks the company "has made the determination that fighting Android in general and Samsung's alleged copying in particular is even more critical to its success than the supplier relationship [that the companies share]." Still, he thinks that existing business relationship "should facilitate a settlement" at some point before the case comes to a decision.

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