Reckoning Smartphone Patent Wars With Nokia, Apple, HTC, Motorola And Samsung

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By Judith Aparri | April 7, 2014 2:12 PM EST

During the introduction of Apple's iPhone in 2007, every significant innovation was patent-protected. Three years later, a global patent war have erupted.

REUTERS/Vicki Behringer
Samsung attorney Bill Price cross examines Greg Christie, Apple vice president of human interface in this courtroom sketch during Apple Inc. vs Samsung Electronics Co Ltd case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Jose, California, April 4, 2014.

In late 2012, Apple was awarded more than $1 billion by a U.S. Federal Court jury trial in damages for patent infringement by Samsung. The Obama administration in the previous fall stopped Samsung's efforts to ban the import of certain Apple products over a patent issue related to 3G. But the International Trade Commission (ITC) gave Apple import ban against some infringing items from Motorola and Samsung in two separate cases.

Apparently, Apple is getting preferential treatment in handling intellectual property (IP) rights in the U.S. There is a big difference on what Motorola, Samsung and Apple each asserted and demanded. Apple did not start the iPhone IP war.

While many experts anticipated Apple to file an IP case against Palm early of 2009 after the webOS. The company did not opt to even if Palm Pre was a major threat to Apple.

Nokia Started It All (2009)

In October 2009, Apple became the target of patent lawsuit with Nokia as complainant over wireless patents. The litigation was meant to make up the Finnish company's failure to compete in the smartphone race against Cupertino's iPhone with its Maemo and Symbian platforms. It saw how iPhone crushed its worldwide business especially at the height of smartphones which was by far its most lucrative business segment.

A defensive patent suit was used by Apple to respond. It ended after 20 months when both settled in court and Apple paid negotiated royalties and signed a limited cross patent license.

Apple vs. HTC, Motorola vs. Apple (2010)

Apple launched a lawsuit against HTC in March 2010 for alleged infringement of its 20 iPhone-related patents. It settled after 32 months with a limited 10-year cross licensing agreement.

In October 2010, an ITC import ban was sought against Apple by Motorola, resulting in a reciprocal legal action. Both claims were dismissed in June 2012 by Judge Richard Posner, who in his opinion, described smartphone patents as not worthy of court protection.

Apple vs. Samsung And Vice Versa (2011)

In April 2011, Apple filed a complaint against Samsung, which was actually delayed wanting to maintain relations with the South Korean firm as it is one of its significant suppliers.

Apple has been tied with Sony, Samsung's biggest customer on components. The lawsuit targeted the tech and dress of first Galaxy S and Tab. Samsung Galaxy smartphone was released a year after iPhone 3GS while Samsung Galaxy tablet came out in late 2010, 10 months after iPad.

The Galaxy products did incredible advances from Samsung's i5700 Android phone flagship and Q1EX-71G Tablet PC described by Fast Company as "a taste of what an Apple tablet might be." Samsung's ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) was similar to iPad in functionality, appearance, desirability and capability. It turned out Apple's flavor was delivered by Samsung.

Apple expressed concerns on Galaxy S after it came out in June 2010. But the South Korean firm refused to address the patent violation issues. After it expanded efforts on its products, marketing, accessories and packaging that were identical to Apple's products, Apple was set to go to trial.

Samsung countersued Apple over 3G tech patents and took the fight globally by filing claims on Apple in Korea, Japan and Germany.

In late 2011, Apple filed its second lawsuit involving 21 devices, including Galaxy Note and Galaxy S3, which were released in August 2011, which violated its patents.

Apple put on hold sales of Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Australia and secured an injunction of the same device in Europe, with the claim that its design was really Apple's iPad. The EU injunction scaled back to Germany only but Apple was able to extend the ban in Germany to even Galaxy Tab 7.7.

Both Apple and Samsung started to get specific on patents. While Apple patents have design elements, slide-to-unlock, universal search features and rubber-banding, Samsung focused on standard-essential ones for 3G mobile tech, which is supposed to be for anyone on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory terms.

Australia allowed Galaxy tabs to go on sale months after its planned release but Samsung changed the design to work around with Germany's sales ban. The South Korean firm managed to ban iPads and iPhones in Germany for a few hours while Apple lost its bid to block Samsung 4G sales in the U.S. Many cases were filed and the fight spanned to around 30 cases in North America, Europe, Australia and Asia.

Ban on Galaxy Tab 10.1 And Galaxy Nexus Ban, Lawsuits Grew to 50, Apple's Win (2012)

In 2012 and 2013, Samsung continued producing products that were similar to Apple's. Even in its retail store efforts and commercials, some had decorated with Apple's iPhone icons. With Apple's patent case's slow progress, Samsung released Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note 2, which expanded further its mobile sales with greater established channels. In September 2012, it established an idea among media members that the sales of its devices were to destroy Apple.

The universal search bar on Galaxy S3 and Galaxy Nexus were scaled back by Samsung and Google in response to a ban granted by Judge Lucy Koh.

U.S. appealed court said Galaxy Tab 10.1 sales should be blocked until a trial but talks did not go anywhere and Judge Lucy Koh ruled any sales ban on Samsung's tablet that would have to wait until the trial ended. A UK court ordered Apple to publicly post that Samsung did not copy the design of iPad because the tablets were not as cool, which Apple eventually complied.

Apple and Samsung case grew to 50 lawsuits. The first jury granted Apple about $1 billion win in August 2012, finding 26 products of Samsung violated Apple's design and software.

From October to November 2012, an appeals court lifted the ban on Galaxy Nexus, which was Apple's strongest blow on an Android product.

Design Crisis, Bans And Retrials (2013)

Samsung worked in 2013 to invent the concept Apple run out of "innovation" and the tech media, which seemed tired of writing about the success of Apple, ride along. Slanted reports on high Samsung sales resulted to the idea of Samsung selling more smartphones than Apple, even without Samsung's profit report and inconsistent phone sales reporting.

In March 2013, Judge Koh found miscalculations on damages, so from the $1 billion award to Apple, invalidated $450 million. She ordered a retrial for a determination of proper damages. In June, in a surprise Samsung win, ITC ruled iPads ban in the U.S. on Samsung patents. The ban stopped in August 2013, two days before it went into effect and ITC blocked older phones of Samsung for Apple patent infringement.

On retrial to determine damages, Apple sought $379.8 million while Samsung argued it should be $52 million. Judge Koh awarded $290 million to Apple in damages which brought Samsung's total penalty to $929 million, from $1.05 billion.

At the end of 2013, Samsung executives spilled enough sales data to clarify its sales as only around two thirds of Apple smartphones.

IP War Continues (2014)

In March 2014, the $929 million award to Apple became official. Samsung filed a formal appeal the next day. The second trial was set in March 31 where Apple sought about $2 billion in damages, concerns of which were different products and patents. Google may have an important courtroom presence as Samsung claimed the four out of five claims were part of Google-owned Android.

In April 2014, the jury was selected while Phil Schiller of Apple sat in the hot seat on a $2 billion trial.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Vicki Behringer / )
Samsung attorney Bill Price cross examines Greg Christie, Apple vice president of human interface in this courtroom sketch during Apple Inc. vs Samsung Electronics Co Ltd case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Jose, California, April 4, 2014.
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