Apple v. Samsung, the longest-running patent dispute that this blog has consistently covered from Day One to Settlement Day, has come to an end--one day and one month after one of multiple jury verdicts. Within about eight minutes (!) of Apple and Samsung notifying the court of a settlement and seeking dismissal, Judge Koh signed the proposed order (this post continues below the document):
I'm torn between saying "Good riddance!" or, quite the opposite and in Spanish, "Fue bonito mientras duró." ("It was nice while it was ongoing.") This dispute raised some important issues and contributed to the evolution of patent case law, but the part related to design patents was going in circles. Apparently the parties thought so as well, at this point. At long last.
This megadispute gave rise to some of the highest-quality legal work (on both sides) one could have had the privilege to read. Apple's original complaint told a coherent and compelling story of the alleged infringement of a multiplicity and wide variety of intellectual property rights. No one should write a multi-IPR complaint without at least reading that complaint once, for the purpose of inspiration.
But Samsung's lawyers delivered a first-rate answer to that complaint, and the mantra of that pleading was one of the best passages I ever read in a court filing:
"The Samsung Defendants admit that they have not ceased competing with Apple notwithstanding Apple's efforts to avoid such competition."
The complaint and the answer to the complaint laid out the fundamental question underlying the dispute: Was Samsung competing lawfully--or had it gone too far? Or, conversely, was Apple taking action against theft or simply trying to eradicate competition the thermonuclear way?
There was and there is no general answer, except that the impact obviously ended up being far from nuclear. One has to look at one patent (or other intellectual property right) at a time, and jurisdiction by jurisdiction.
Samsung managed to fend off many accusations, in multiple jurisdictions. It countersued, mostly over standard-essential patents (SEPs), and in that context I criticized it far more harshly than in connection with the alleged or adjudicated infringement of design or software patents. Fortunately, Samsung is now a proponent of reasonableness in SEP licensing and enforcement. Case in point, it signed an open letter to U.S. Assistant Attorney General Delrahim earlier this year--alongside a few industry bodies and dozens of companies, including... Apple!
Apple has clearly proven that it's prepared to enforce its intellectual property rights. Vigorously. Persistently. Patiently. And Samsung has shown that it's a formidable defendant.
Let's not underestimate the effect this will have had on other parties. Who knows whom else Apple might have had to sue over design patents if it had not demonstrated in its dispute with Samsung how it responds to (alleged) design patent infringement? Who knows who else might have picked a fight with Samsung if Samsung hadn't mounted such a strong and tireless defense as in the Apple case?
Normally, those companies strike license deals, and when they wind up in court, they typically settle reasonably early. Somehow, it took them a lot longer in this case. And now either one of them has a dispute going that looks like it could become the next long-running one: Apple with Qualcomm, and Samsung with Huawei.
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