Friday, August 26, 2011

Apple wins expedited trial in California lawsuit against Samsung -- trial date: July 30, 2012

After a Dutch court ordered a preliminary injunction against three Samsung smartphones (which is far from devastating to Samsung but adds another piece to Apple's "copycat" story) and a German court upheld -- at least until September 9, 2011, but probably beyond -- a preliminary injunction against the Galaxy Tab 10.1, Apple won an important scheduling victory in the Northern District of California.

Apple's first federal lawsuit against Samsung and Samsung's counterclaims (which used to be a separate lawsuit prior to being consolidated into this litigation) will go to trial starting July 30, 2012. Apple had asked for the trial to take place even six months earlier (February 1, 2012), but Samsung opposed any expedited schedule and didn't even propose a specific trial date. Instead, Samsung highlighted that the median time to trial for patent cases in that district is 23 months, which would have corresponded to a trial date in March 2013.

I believe Apple never realistically expected that the court would agree to a February trial date, especially after Judge Lucy Koh rejected in mid-July a proposal by Apple to shorten the time for the briefing process leading to the decision now finally taken. After that decision on a meta-schedule (a schedule for the process of setting a schedule) I was rather skeptical of the judge's willingness to grant an expedited schedule, but I said that the court would proceed "reasonably swiftly" as it does in Oracle v. Google, too. In fact, the current schedule in Oracle v. Google envisions a trial starting on Halloween, 14.5 months after Oracle's complaint, and Judge Koh's expedited trial date for Apple v. Samsung is 15.5 months after Apple's original complaint. In terms of the number of claims, the Oracle case is actually the simpler one, and the judge presiding over that one is a highly efficient case manager. Considering the greater complexity of Apple v. Samsung, this is really a pretty ambitious schedule and, therefore, a major win for Apple.

After Samsung had argued that there were 43 different claims at stake in this litigation, Apple argued that Samsung had "artificially inflated the scope of this case by interposing 12 more utility patents", and Apple's lawyers told the court that Samsung's counterclaims don't appear to be particularly urgent, suggesting that Apple's claims and Samsung's claims could be severed, with Apple's claims going to trial on an expedited schedule and Samsung's claims remaining on a normal schedule. The judge rejected that proposal. In those patent cases it's always important for a party to have the chance of a favorable decision on its own claims at the same time as the other party. Separating the two sets of claims would have disadvantaged Samsung, and while I believe the court wouldn't want to treat any party that way, it would look particularly awkward if a court granted its "local hero" an expedited trial and denied the same to the foreign litigant.

This federal case is only one of 19 lawsuits going on between the parties in 12 courts in 9 countries on 4 continents. With the expedited trial in California, it's still possible that maybe one or a couple of the other jurisdictions will take final decisions (leaving preliminary injunctions aside) before Apple's original federal lawsuit gets decided, but Apple has at least ensured that there won't be too much of a delay between possible decisions in other countries and the one to be taken in its home court.

If you're interested in further information on this, you can take a look at the order, which I have uploaded to Scribd and which contains a more detailed schedule. The claim construction hearing on January 20, 2012 will be an important event, followed by an order on how to interpret the 10 most important terms that appear in the asserted claims.

Some of Apple's lawyers withdraw under conflict-of-interest pressure from Samsung

Compared to scheduling, the question of which lawyers are allowed to work for Apple on this case is much less important. After all, there's no shortage of qualified intellectual property lawyers who are happy to represent Apple in general and in such a high-profile case in particular. But apparently there was a decent probability of the court agreeing with Samsung's motion to disqualify the firm of Bridges & Mavrakakis due to certain work some of its lawyers previously performed for Samsung on somewhat related issues. While Apple opposed that motion, all of the lawyers from that firm representing Apple in this litigation notified the court yesterday of their withdrawal from this action. In a separate letter filed yesterday by a law firm that advised Bridges & Mavrakakis on this particular professional conduct issue, reference is made to "the Court's decisions at the Case Management Conference". So there are strong indications that Samsung was going to win this one, and the lawyers concerned withdrew in order to prevent a likely -- if not impending -- disqualification order.

I'm sure Samsung is happy about not having to fight against its own former lawyers. That said, this case is still the same case as before, and the withdrawal of those lawyers is far less important than the substance of the case (and also less important than the schedule, which now favors Apple's interests).

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