An Apple/Samsung truce will take months to negotiate

Amid reports of negotiations to end all patent battles, the companies dash hopes with new war of words

By Caroline Gabriel

Are we really seeing the first overtures for peace, in the bloody war of patents between Apple and Samsung?

The auspices seemed good at the start of the week. Apple and Google, the shadowy force behind Samsung's Android defences, agreed to suspend their own IPR hostilities, which though they related to fairly minor patents, was symbolically important. And even better, this coincided with the news that Apple and Samsing were in talks about resolving their differences.

However, hopes faded quickly. The talks were ordered by Judge Lucy Koh, who has presided over most of the key cases between the two firms in Silicon Valley, the most recent ending earlier this month in something of a score-draw. Grudging court-imposed negotiations have happened before between these two antagonists, sometimes at CEO level, with no result. The Korea Times also reported that the companies were engaged in "working level talks" about the possibility of ending all lawsuits, but it was not clear whether these were also court-ordered, or at what level they took place.

And in court filings to report on the 'progress' of the new peace summits, there was little reason to hope for an early deal, but instead a new round in the companies' increasingly colorful war of words. Apple pointed out remarks reportedly made by Samsung lawyer John Quinn after the recent San Jose jury verdict, in which he managed to draw comparisons with two of the US's most bitter recent conflicts. He was quoted as saying the trial was "Apple's Vietnam, and people are sick of it", and followed that up, in an interview with CNET, by calling his rival a "jihadist". That referred back to Apple founder Steve Jobs's famous declaration of "holy war" against Android, and Quinn insisted: "It's kind of hard to talk settlement with a jihadist".

Samsung said the remarks were irrelevant to the outcome and said it supported the ADR (alternative dispute resolution) process ordered by Koh. However, it said Apple was "improper" in requesting that ADR participation would not be used against it in future injunction or royalty cases. Apple said that, without that guarantee, it would be impossible to take part in ADR.

Despite these bad signs, there is strong feeling that the two companies will reach a settlement this year, as the markets and the courts grow weary of their battles; analysts call on them to compete through innovation not litigation; and as neither succeeds in dealing a knock-out blow to the other, as seen in a string of court refusals to grant bans on sales of key products. IPR analyst Florian Mueller recently wrote on his Foss Patents blog that the hostilities should end this summer and "isn't it about time that Apple looked for an exit strategy from a war it apparently can't win?" The same applies to Samsung, though the US firm has usually been the aggressor and so will have the most to lose from a climbdown. However, it may be that, behind the bluster and ill feeling, the companies really are seriously examining a way to end these expensive and distracting battles with minimum loss of face.

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