Samsung countersues Apple on new ground
The best defense is a good offense
Samsung has countersued Apple in response to the raft of patent- and trademark-infringment lawsuits that Cupertino launched against it earlier this week.
But the Korean electronics giant isn't fighting back against Apple's allegations that it appropriated the iPhone and iPad's look-and-feel. Instead, it's mounting its counteroffensive on completely separate technical grounds.
Samsung has long been criticized for being a copycat, appropriating designs of everything from TV sets to feature phones. Steve Jobs, during his presentation announcing the iPad 2 on March 2, lumped Samsung in with Android, HP, RIM, and Motorola when he dubbed 2011 as "the year of the copycats."
Steve Jobs may well have dubbed 2011 as "The year of the look-and-feel lawsuits"
But instead of defending its UI and design choices, Samsung's lawsuits, filed on Friday in Seoul, Tokyo, and Mannheim, Germany, allege violations of technical patents: five Korean, two Japanese, and three German. A Samsung spokesman told The Wall Street Journal that the alledgedly infringed patents involve "transmission optimization and reduction of power usage during data transmission, 3G technology for reducing data-transmission errors and a method of tethering a mobile phone to a PC to enable the PC to utilize the phone's wireless data connection."
By contrast, the lawsuit that Apple filed on Monday focuses on alleged infringment of seven user-interface patents, three design patents, three violations of trade-dress rights, and six icon trademarks.
Among the more interesting parts of Apple's suit is the allegation that Samsung violated Apple's trade dress "for the overall design of the product, including the rectangular shape, the rounded corners, the silver edges,the black face, and the display of sixteen colorful icons," as noted by long-time patent-watcher Florian Mueller in his useful overview of both companies' allegations.
Now Samsung is opening up another front in the legal battle. "Samsung is responding actively to the legal action taken against us in order to protect our intellectual property and to ensure our continued innovation and growth in the mobile communications business," Samsung said in the statement as reported by Bloomberg, Korea's Yonhap News Agency, and others.
This latest statement echoes the Korean electronics giant's original response to Apple's lawsuit, when it at that time said: "Samsung will respond actively to this legal action taken against us through appropriate legal measures to protect our intellectual property."
Samsung's rapid response hints that much preliminary work on the countersuits had already been in development – a presumption given weight by Steve Jobs' stand-in Tim Cook. When speaking with analysts and reporters after announcing Apple's second-quarter 2011 financial results on Wednesday, Cook said that the two companies had been "trying for some time to work the issue." But having failed to come to a resolution, Apple "decided that we needed to rely on the courts."
During that same conference call, Cook was careful to draw a distinction between Samsung as a whole and the part of Samsung that's the target of Apple's suit. "We are Samsung's largest customer, and Samsung is a very valued component supplier to us, and I expect this strong relationship will continue," Cook said, perhaps hoping to calm investors' fears of a disruption in the iOS-device supply chain.
"Separately from this," Cook continued, "we felt the mobile-communication division of Samsung had crossed the line."
With Friday's lawsuits in Europe and Asia, Samsung is not only ignoring the line that Cook accuses it of having crossed – that battle will have to wait until the US District Court of Northern California takes up Apple's lawsuit – it is also internationalizing the dispute against what Cook claims to be its largest customer.
Despite Cook's assertion that his beef is only with one Samsung division, Friday's lawsuits show the Korean company as a whole is responding in line with the old sports cliché that the best defense is a good offense.
This is corporate hardball at its most raw: two global companies wielding whatever weapons they think most effective in a deadly serious game of threats, assertions, and legal leverage. ®
And apple never copied from anyone else?
The ipad itself wasn't brand new, just rebranded and copied from someone else.
How quickly Steve Jobs forgets.
I note that on this thread and on the thread attached to the article that reported Apple's original writ there is a marked absence of "Phanboi" posting. Sure some people have expressed the opinion that there is perhaps a little too much similarity between the Galaxy S and the 3GS although even they usually have also said that they do not see the same with the Galaxy Tab and the iPad. It is almost as if Apple's very loyal fan-base are, at the least, somewhat uneasy about Cupertino's decision to go to war with their largest component supplier over breaches which, on the face of it, do not amount to that much (even if one accepts Apple's story) and certainly have not done Apple's sales any damage! Indeed I think that they are right to be uneasy because I do not believe that this in reality is about any perceived patent breach - this is IMO about the current state of the smart phone market. We are reaching a point where the smart phone market is on the verge of exploding and it is Android (currently) who appear to be riding the wave at a higher rate of knots than (relatively speaking) than the iOS. Samsung's high end offerings are beginning to represent a real challenge for Apple whilst HTC has reached the point where brand recognition in the marketplace is such that ordinary punters are now asking for that company's phones by name. Furthermore I do not believe that Cupertino dismisses the increase in competition that may be provided by future Nokiasoft phones as readily as some here at El Reg do. All in all the future is looking more challenging for Apple specifically because it is not unlikely that at some point they will no longer dominate the high end of the market - and that is what they really care about. They will IMO always sell well, they know what their customers want and how to design and build it. However, they clearly have decided to use every method they can get away with to protect their market position - that is a dangerous place to be in, Apple may come to regret starting this war.
Not so easy with second sources....
Apple is using customized parts from Samsung. It is not easy for a third party to jump in, as Apple most likely has only the design rights, with no access to the semi mask set or the manufacturing process details. Having the design done in VHDL/whatever is a starting point for a custom part, and you need to run a lot of simulations and optimizations which are linked to the specific library you are using (process specific, ST and Atmel will give you a separate set of libraries to link your design to, for example, and you start the optimization and critical path analysis from scratch each time you move to a new vendor / fab / library). Even with the mask set in hand, moving a product to different fab for the same manufacturer, it is not trivial and takes time until you get qualification data (minimum of three wafer lots processed all the way, with statistical parametric data fully analyzed before you can turn on the volume at the new plant).
Changing the parts (and PCB) to get something compatible in the same form factor with full software backwards compatibility is not a weekend affair either, and is likely to require new FCC/CE/UL certifications plus internal tests to check for issues (add a couple of weeks at a minimum) before the new rev can go into production.
"Hello, Steve? Sorry to inform you, but we had a contamination problem in our CPU wafer fab, and it will take 10 weeks to resolve...." could be a serious issue for Apple. Steve did not really think this one through - I agree it is time for popcorn :)