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2012 in tech: Apple up the Cook without a paddle, ARM, slab wars... and MORE

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Apple versus Samsung on rounded corners

By November, rumours were circulating the board was moving against chief executive Andrew Mason. The CEO, though, stayed put saying he is still the right man for the job.

Ironically, the best thing to happen to GroupOn’s stock price was the anticipation of Mason’s exit: his company’s stock jumped 12 per cent on the rumors.

Apple v Samsung - oh! What a lovely war

The Battle of the Rounded Corners, or the smart-device patent war between Apple and Samsung, reached a climax during 2012.

After years of lobbing patent suits at each other – and at other device and software makers - the fight between the two biggest dogs in smartphones and tablets came to a head.

Only it didn’t quite go as planned for either party.

Apple has been chasing Samsung in the US on claims the South-Korean device maker had copied the design of the iPhone with its so-successful-it-hurts Galaxy. Apple wanted a permanent injunction against the Samsung devices being sold in the US.

Across the pond, in Britain, Samsung sought a ruling that its Tab 10.1, 8.9 and 7.7 did not infringe on the iPad, with Apple counter-suing for infringement.

In the US, Apple claimed to have unearthed proof the electronics giant was in a design crisis over the iPhone while Samsung countered that all phones and devices borrow from each other.

The court, in San Francisco, California, sided with Apple and slapped Samsung with a $1.05bn bill. Days after that defeat, the US International Trade Commission to whom Samsung had turned claiming Apple had infringed on four of its patents, found that "no violation" had been made by Apple on any of the patents in question.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, 2012

Cook: best of the Samsung case gone?

A trade case legal expert told Bloomberg nobody could get any traction against Apple at the ITC. “If you want to get relief against Apple, it's going to have to be in a foreign forum where it doesn't have the clout or the cachet it has at the ITC or the northern district of California," the expert said.

And so it was to the courts in Britain, where in July Judge Birss of the Patents Court hearing Samsung vs Apple ruled that Samsung had not copied the design of the iPad, in Community Registered Design No. 000181607-0001.

Birss ordered Apple to run ads in newspapers and magazines in titles including The Daily Mail, Financial Times, Guardian Mobile magazine and T3 and on its website, essentially saying “Samsung didn't copy us". The website ad had to run for six months.

But this is Apple, which doesn’t subscribe to the rules that bind other people. So Apple ran a churlish, six paragraph ramble with digs at Samsung, that mentioned favourable judgments in patent lawsuits between the pair in Germany, referenced to the iPad’s “coolness” and asserted: "Samsung willfully copied Apple's far more popular iPad". On the website, Apple buried the apology at the bottom of its homepage.

Apple was smartly reprimanded by three appeals court judges, staggered by Apple’s cheek. “I’m at a loss that a company such as Apple would do this. That is a plain breach of the order,” said one judge who’d clearly had little experience of dealing with the haughty computer maker. The judges ordered new ads, with 11-point font size; Apple said it needed 14 days to make the change to its website but was given just hours and replaced it with a new notice acknowledging the inaccurate comments. US tech journalists fulminated at the audacity of a court in sovereign power to find against Apple and then, in their view, treat it so unfairly as to expect it to comply with the law.

The ruling, though, seemed to represent a high-water mark in Apple’s legal fortunes. In December, the US judge hearing the case rejected Apple’s plea to ban Samsung’s US sales. The judge reckoned just a “small fraction” of the Samsung phones’ features were covered by Apple’s patents and: "It does not follow that entire products must be forever banned from the market because they incorporate, among their myriad features, a few narrow protected functions."

Samsung, meanwhile, was left with a bill for $1bn damages after the judge said there would be no retrial. The gadget giant’s legal team had argued for a retrial claiming jury foreman Velvin Hogan was biased and had tried to exact revenge.

Millions of hours in attorneys’ fees, thousands of hours of court time have so far been flushed on the Battle of Rounded Corners. Has it made a difference? No.

As the cases have ground on, Google’s Android widened its lead as the world’s largest smartphone operating system during 2012, trashing the early advantage of Apple’s iOS. That’s been thanks in large part to massive sales of Samsung’s Galaxy family that hit 95 million sold in 2011 beating the iPhone’s 37 million and crowning Samsung as that year’s biggest supplier of smartphones.

Since its launch in May, the Galaxy S3 has sold 30 million and in the UK it saw off Apple’s latest iPhone to become Britain's most popular smartphone. With those kinds of numbers, the Battle of Rounded Corners remained a sideshow running on its own, meaningless logic of courtroom process as the war played out in the market of the world stage.

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