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

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Gives Fetuses Lawyers and Puts Teenage Girls on Trial

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Big Problems With the Secret Service Were Reported Last Year. Nobody Cared.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 12:58 PM Why Can’t States Do More to Protect Patients From Surprise Medical Bills? It’s complicated.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 2 2014 1:05 PM What's Wrong With "America's Ugliest Accent"
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 2 2014 12:37 PM St. Louis Study Confirms That IUDs Are the Key to Lowering Teen Pregnancy Rates
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 1:29 PM Want to Know What Makes David Fincher Great? Focus on What He Doesn’t Do.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 1:22 PM If Someone Secretly Controlled What You Say, Would You Notice? What cyranoid experiments reveal about how people act.  
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 2 2014 12:53 PM The Panic Virus How public health officials are keeping Americans calm about the Ebola threat.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?