By ordering Samsung to pay only a small fraction of damages that Apple had requested in the company’s latest patent trial, a jury awarded a symbolic victory to the South Korean smartphone maker.
After several days of deliberation, an eight-person jury in San Jose found that some Samsung smartphones and tablets did infringe some patents held by Apple.
However, the jury ordered Samsung to pay only $119.6 million in damages, a far cry from the $2.2 billion that Apple was seeking.
It’s also much smaller than the $1-billion award a jury ordered Samsung to pay in a trial over similar issues in the same courtroom two years ago.
Analysts said the verdict is just the latest in what is likely to be a prolonged legal war between the two rivals that will have little impact on consumers.
While the legal fight has turned on the finer points of U.S. patent law, the bruising conflict has its roots in Apple founder Steve Jobs' belief that Google’s Android operating system is essentially a bad copy of Apple’s iPhone operating system.
"Our lawsuit is saying, 'Google you ... ripped off the iPhone, wholesale ripped us off,' " Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. "I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I'm going to destroy Android, because it's a stolen product."
Android has since overtaken Apple’s iOS to become the leading smartphone operating system in the world, powering the smartphones and tablet sold by Samsung, among others. Not only did Apple see its early dominance in smartphones vanish, but now Android tablets are starting to close the market share gap with the iPad.
In a dramatic patent trial in the same courtroom two years ago, Apple attacked Samsung’s Android products for violating a series of patents. A jury agreed and awarded Apple a $1-billion verdict. Samsung appealed that award, resulting in a retrial on damages that led a judge to lower the damages.
While Judge Lucy Koh upheld the verdict and most of the damages, she declined at the time to implement a permanent injunction on Samsung products. Such an injunction could have at least had some effect on sales between the two rivals, experts said. But without such a ban, the first trial and its outcome have done little to stem Samsung’s momentum.
The latest trial, essentially round three, lasted about a month and covered more recent products, the Samsung Galaxy S3 and the Galaxy Tab 2. However, much like the first trial, by the time the matter reached the courthouse, many of the products were quite dated, and in some cases, no longer available. Samsung, for instance, has recently launched the Galaxy S5.
Still, Apple says these products violated five of its patents, including the Siri voice control, the slide-to-unlock function, auto-correct software and the ability to search the Internet and use the phone at the same time. Apple's attorneys tried to argue that Samsung should be forced to pay $2 billion for the violations.
“The evidence will show that Samsung copied the iPhone,” Apple lawyer Harold McElhinny said in his opening statement. “And it also took many novel Apple inventions. It copied many, many features.”
Samsung denied that it copied Apple, and said that in any case, the $2 billion that Apple was seeking was pure greed. The features in question, they argued, were trivial and played little or no role in consumers’ decision about which smartphone to buy.