What your next smart phone or tablet computer might look like is in the hands of a California jury. In one of the biggest patent infringement cases ever, Apple is suing Samsung — charging that in creating its products, Samsung ripped off iPhone and iPad technology. Samsung countered with its own allegations.
This case is complex, the legal issues are daunting, and the jury's decision has to be unanimous.
"What's at stake here is the future of smartphones and the tablet market," says intellectual property expert Christopher V. Carani.
He notes that the patents being debated cover both design and how things work. The jurors will be given a verdict form with about 700 questions, and they're supposed to decide if any of about three-dozen devices made by Apple or Samsung infringe on patents owned by the other company.
Carani says comparing each product to all of the patents will be difficult.
"For each one, they'll have to have an itemized determination regarding infringement," Carani says, "then moving to invalidity — in other words, whether or not the patents were valid or invalid. And then if there is a finding of liability, they'll have to go to each one of the asserted products and products and determine what level of damages were incurred.
The judge in the case worries that the jury will be "seriously confused."
Apple maintains that if you look at Samsung's tablets and its smartphones, it's clear the South Korean company shamelessly copied Apples design and some of its technology. Apple is seeking billions in damages and wants Samsung — the largest maker of Android phones — to stop selling copycat devices in the U.S.
But the real impact of this case, one The Wall Street Journal has dubbed the patent trial of the century, could go well beyond these two companies.
"If Apple prevails, then all of these competitors will be sent back to the drawing board to say, 'We have to produce our own innovations, our own ways of doing things,' and that will produce more diversity in the market," says analyst Charles Golvin of Forrester Research.
On the other hand, he says, if Samsung wins, you can expect a lot more products that look like Apple's.
It's always difficult to predict the outcome in a complex jury trial, but Stanford law professor Mark Lemley has some ideas.
"One of the interesting things has been how much Samsung seems to have been on the defensive," he says.
Though Samsung has claims against Apple, much of the case focused on Apple's assertion that Samsung was the bad guy. Lemley says Samsung spent a lot time trying to limit the amount of money it might have to pay.
"Going into the jury verdict, this sure looks like a case where Apple has the edge in terms of momentum and how the jury is likely to be feeling," Lemley says.
The jury begins deliberations Wednesday, and with hundreds of questions to be answered, it's impossible to say how long it might take.
Earlier this year, jurors took about a week to decide a patent dispute involving Google and Oracle. But in another patent dispute, a jury took only about an hour to award Monsanto a billion dollars.
Whatever the jury decides in the Apple-Samsung case, the verdict is likely to be appealed.
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