Apple should go after Google directly, says patent jury

Latest Apple-Samsung trial ends in marginal victory for the iPhone maker, while Google may not be able to stay in the shadows forever

By Caroline Gabriel

The jury in the latest Apple-Samsung patents trial delivered its verdict on Friday, but this was far from the resounding victory Apple claimed when the pair duked it out in the same Silicon Valley courtroom in 2012. Then, Samsung was slapped with a damages bill of over $1bn (the subject of endless reviews and appeals since). This time, there were mixed results for both companies, and a growing sense of weariness from the judge and the mobile ecosystem, which wishes these giants would go back to innovating rather than litigating in their duel.

Samsung was deemed to have infringed some, but not all, of the patents at issue, and Apple won damages of $120m. In an unexpected twist, the jury also found that Apple infringed on one of its enemy's patents, and it was handed a bill of about $158,400. The $120m figure could be reduced on appeal and, while hefty, is a fraction of the $2bn-plus Apple had sought (or the $1.05bn award of two years ago).

"We agree with the jury's decision to reject Apple's grossly exaggerated damages claim," Samsung said in a statement on Monday. "Although we are disappointed by the finding of infringement, we are vindicated that for the second time in the US, Apple has been found to infringe Samsung's patents."

 More interesting than all this tit-for-tat fighting was the entry of Google - always the lurking figure in the background of Android battles, but rarely on center stage - into the picture.

The eight jurors said that Apple should go after Google, not handset makers, in order to settle its claims against Android once and for all. According to CNET, jury members said in post-trial interviews that Apple should take a "more direct approach". Jury foreman and former IBM executive Tom Dunham commented: "I guess if you really feel that Google is something that's the cause behind this, as I think everybody observed, then don't beat around the bush."

This is a sentiment many have voiced during the handset IPR wars of the past three years, but the iPhone maker has appeared nervous of taking on the search giant head-to-head. With the exception of the Oracle copyright trial of 2012, legal actions have generally focused on individual Android licensees, and Google has only been involved when one of the targets was its Motorola Mobility subsidiary.

This trial has changed that somewhat, and not just because of the jury's comments. Google was discovered to be shouldering some of the costs of Samsung's defence and potential damages. And Motorola is soon to be sold to Lenovo, but minus most of the IPR which attracted Google to it, so the Android grand wizard may have to take more direct responsibility for some of the patents. Moreover, the US federal appeals court in Washington, which handles all IPR-related appeals, recently reversed the decision of a lower court to deny Apple's claims regarding a quick links patent. That could see Apple reasserting its claims, which applied to Motorola as well as Samsung.

The main elements of the verdict were that the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (a co-production with Google) did infringe upon Apple's '647 'quick links' patent, but no Galaxy devices were found to infringe upon the '959 universal search patent. The trial was basically an update of the 2012 event, with basically the same arguments rehashed for a somewhat different line-up of devices, including newer models like the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3. The main differences were that Apple was seeking even higher damages, a tactic which may have backfired since it made the firm look greedy and vindictive, rather than justifiably defending its inventions; and Samsung made greater play of the claim that it was being made a scapegoat for claims which should be directed at Google.

 On Friday, Apple said in a statement that the verdict showed that "Samsung willfully stole our ideas and copied our products. We are fighting to defend the hard work that goes into beloved products like the iPhone."

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