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Judge orders probe over Samsung execs viewing secret Apple docs

Did legal team, fox, chickens break confidentiality rules?

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Samsung's patent battles with Apple has taken an unexpected turn: the Korean conglomerate has been ordered to cough up email records and witnesses so that the court can determine if its lawyers have been playing fast and loose with confidentiality.

According to a court filing on Wednesday, Apple disclosed a number of patent agreements with Nokia, Sharp, Philips, and Ericsson and other to lawyers at Samsung as part of its ongoing dispute over intellectual property.

All above board so far, but Samsung's external legal team was bound by law not to disclose these to Sammy itself. Instead, however, the legal eagles put them on an FTP server and as many as 50 employees had the opportunity to look them over, and in five cases Samsung executives might have been sent the documents directly by email.

This came to light during a meeting in June between Nokia's chief intellectual property officer Paul Melin and the head of Samsung's IP Center, Dr. Seungho Ahn, to discuss copyright issues. According to Nokia, Ahn told Finnish executives that he knew the terms of their deal with Apple, recited the exact details, and added the comment "all information leaks."

"It is possible that Dr. Ahn's encounter with Mr. Melin occurred very differently," wrote Magistrate Paul Grewal in the court filing. "Unfortunately, the court cannot say, because Samsung has elected not to provide the court with any sworn testimony from Dr. Ahn or anyone else at the meeting."

Grewal said that Samsung's response to questions about who saw what boils down to "we're working on it." Samsung says that it has hired a firm to check its server logs and see who accessed what documents, but that the investigators will not interview any of the company's executives or lawyers; the magistrate expressed his dissatisfaction with Samsung's plans.

"Letting Samsung and its counsel investigate this situation without any court supervision is unlikely to produce satisfactory results," Grewel wrote. "Rarely is the fox is permitted to investigate without supervision the disappearance of chickens at the henhouse."

Instead, he ruled, Samsung has until October 16 to turn over all emails relating to the case, as well bringing in Dr. Ahn to give testimony on the matter. Nokia will be allowed access to all of these documents as well, and on October 22 a new hearing will be held. ®

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