Apple and Samsung are back at it again. On Monday, the two rivals are set to square off in a San Jose courtroom, with Apple seeking $2 billion from Samsung for violating five of its software patents for phones and tablets, while Samsung says Apple is in violation of two of its own.
Some features in Samsung devices that Apple objects to are part of Google’s Android operating system, by far the most popular mobile operating system worldwide, running on more than a billion devices made by many manufacturers. That means that if Apple wins, Google could have to make changes to critical Android features, and Samsung and other Android phone makers might have to modify the software on their phones.
While the first Apple vs. Samsung case concerned patents for physical details, like “rounded corners” and “edge to edge glass,” this new case deals primarily with software nuances that Apple claims were indigenous to iOS, like “slide-to-unlock” from the homescreen and “unified search,” which combs your phone from a single interface. Back then, Samsung contended that some of these details were “obvious.”
Yet by targeting the South Korean phone maker, the world’s largest and savviest seller of Androids, Apple is quietly waging a war of attrition against a much larger legal adversary. As Mark P. McKenna, an IP law professor at Notre Dame, tells the Times, “Several people have described the initial battle between Samsung and Apple as really one between Apple and Google.” If Apple wins the rights to “slide-to-unlock” for example, that change doesn’t just affect Samsung; it means every phone running Android is a potential infringer.
By tangling with ostensibly smaller companies operating under the Android umbrella, like Samsung and HTC, Apple has been able to notch several smaller wins, rather than risk a bigger and more decisive outcome by going after Google outright. And that strategy, at least so far, appears to have paid off handsomely.