Jury Holds Fate of Smartphone Industry as Apple v. Samsung Patent Trial Begins

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
July 31 2012 9:45 AM

Jury Holds Fate of Smartphone Industry as Apple v. Samsung Patent Trial Begins

Samsung vs. iPhone
A Samsung phone (up) and an iPhone 4.

Photo by Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

Ever since Apple’s first iPhone revolutionized the mobile phone industry, Samsung has been playing catch-up. Adopting Google’s Android operating system, the South Korean conglomerate began cranking out a range of products that looked a lot like Apple’s, from the Galaxy smartphone to the iPad-ish Galaxy Tab.

Will Oremus Will Oremus

Will Oremus is Slate's senior technology writer.

The strategy worked: Samsung has not only caught up to Apple but surpassed it as the world’s largest smartphone maker, capturing 33 percent of the global market to Apple’s 17 percent in the second quarter of 2012. Not surprisingly, Apple has cried foul, alleging all sorts of patent infringements. Samsung, for its part, has pointed out that Apple’s smartphones rely on some technology that it had patented—also not surprising, given that Samsung has been making phones since before the iPhone was a twinkle in Steve Jobs’ eye.

Advertisement

Here’s what is surprising, especially to people not familiar with the United States’ unique patent law system: the people who get to sort out this legal mess. After two years of bickering and failing to settle, Apple and Samsung have taken their case to the legal body least qualified to understand, let alone adjudicate, their competing claims: a jury.

Opening statements are scheduled today in a federal courthouse in San Jose where I once covered the criminal trial of a homeless man accused of burning down a Walgreens. Under the eye of a federal district court judge, both sides’ lawyers will face the task of dumbing down their highly technical arguments to the point where even you and I could understand them—because the jurors know no more about patent law or the inner workings of smartphones than you or me.

The United States is one of the few countries in the world that sends patent cases to jury trials. Even here, it happens rarely, because companies are too risk-averse to entrust the fate of billions of dollars’ worth of intellectual property to a randomly selected squad of average joes. That Apple and Samsung have reached this point shows just how big this case is. So much is at stake that neither company has been willing to back down and reach a rational compromise.

Apple is seeking a record $2.5 billion in damages. But more than that it wants Samsung’s products kept off the shelves, so it can regain its market dominance. (It already won an injunction against U.S. sales of the Galaxy Tab 10.1.) And a victory here wouldn’t just be a blow to Samsung but a blow to Google, whose operating system also underpins many other Apple rivals’ devices.

Apple's strategy will be to paint Samsung as a company desperately copying its groundbreaking devices—a narrative that will be helped by evidence such as a 2010 internal Samsung email noting that Google was requesting design changes to keep its Galaxy tab from looking too similar to the iPad. Samsung's response will be that, to some extent, all mobile devices look alike by necessity—and that Apple's innovations are no more special than those of the many other companies that paved the way for the iPhone, including Samsung itself.

As U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh told the jurors on Monday: "This will be a very interesting case."

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

The Best Thing About the People’s Climate March in NYC

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

John Oliver Debunks the Miss America Pageant’s Claim That It Gives Out $45 Million in Scholarships

Trending News Channel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 1:37 PM Subprime Loans Are Back! And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 2:55 PM Nuptial Expert Sarkozy Worries About Gay Marriage and the Family
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM Escaping the Extreme Christian Fundamentalism of "Quiverfull"
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 22 2014 2:12 PM Crusader, Sans Cape The superhero trappings of Gotham are just a clever disguise.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 12:14 PM Family Court Rules That You Can Serve Someone With Legal Papers Over Facebook
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 22 2014 12:15 PM The Changing Face of Climate Change Will the leaders of the People’s Climate March now lead the movement?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.