DigitalLeadership ReadWrite

How The Samsung Trial Highlights Apple’s Cold War With Google

Author

Dan Rowinski

May 8, 2014

The Platform is a regular column by mobile editor Dan Rowinski. Ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence and pervasive networks are changing the way humans interact with everything.

Apple’s lawyers once again get to lord over Samsung in patent court—even if Apple is only getting a fraction of what it wanted from the Korean smartphone giant.

The facts of the Apple vs. Samsung (Part 2) trial, which played out in a California federal court, are tangential at this point. The jury has ruled in Apple’s “favor.” The verdict: Samsung violated three Apple patents and is ordered to pay $119 million in damages. The post-trial talk has been about how this is a win for Samsung, as it pays Apple only about 6% of the $2.2 billion in damages it had been seeking. A couple million dollars here and there does not really bother these tech behemoths.

The real specter surrounding Apple and its willful patent hunt against device manufacturers has little to do with Samsung or Motorola or LG or HTC or any of the dozens of other manufacturers that employ the Android operating system. The ghost that haunts Apple is not Samsung; it’s Google.

Quick Thought: Google Expands Chrome OS Universe With Intel

Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s OS X need to keep an eye on Google. At a press event yesterday, Google and chip manufacturer Intel announced an agreement where Intel will supply its “Bay Trail-M” chips to Chromebooks, which will be made by a bevy of computer manufacturers, according to PCWorld’s Mark Hachman, a former ReadWrite reporter.

Rachel King at ZDNet says 20 Chromebooks will ship with Intel inside by the end of the year, up from just four Chromebooks in September 2013. LG, Acer, Asus and Lenovo (among others) will make low-cost Chromebooks with Intel’s Celeron processor.

Microsoft and Apple can be forgiven if they have a “here we go again” feeling when it comes to Google and Chrome OS. After all, Google has eaten just about everybody’s lunch by spreading Android through the world with low-cost smartphones from a variety of manufacturers. With Intel and a host of manufacturers onboard for Chrome OS, Google’s assault on the PC industry will soon kick into full force.

Google’s Role In The Android Patent Trials

Google was the giant, flying pink elephant hovering over the Apple vs. Samsung case like an alcoholic’s deranged fever dream. During the course of the trial, facts emerged that Google would indemnify Samsung for two of the five patents Apple was suing over, promising to pay any damages that arose from the jury verdict.

In the end, Google got off the hook as the jury found Samsung guilty of infringing the three other patents that, theoretically, had nothing to do with Google or Android. 

Jury foreman Tom Dunham, a retired IBM executive, told CNET’s Shara Tibken after the case that Google was of interest to the jury but ultimately did not play a part in the decision. Dunham proposed that, perhaps, Apple and Google should work out this whole patent thing together.

As Dunham told CNET: “I guess if you really feel that Google is something that’s the cause behind this, as I think everybody observed, then don’t beat around the bush … The fact is Apple has [intellectual property] they believe in. So does Samsung. So does Google. Let the courts decide, but a more direct approach might be something to think about.”

The fact of the matter is that Apple has never gone directly after Google for patents used in Android phones. Up to this point, the company’s legal strategy has been to go after manufacturers like Samsung because those are the companies really making money from device sales. Apple can recoup lost revenue and perhaps score an all-important import injunction of devices if it wins against an Android manufacturer. Google does not make its own phones (especially now with Motorola in process of being sold to Lenovo) and its makes money through services and advertisements.

Attacking Google in court is much harder than attacking a proxy company like Samsung. For all its power, Samsung has again and again shown a willingness to copy products and gain massive market share before settling some nuisance lawsuits that come from its egregious practices. Google is not as roughshod as Samsung and has covered itself from lawsuits time after time through diligent, careful engineering and a platform agnostic approach to software distribution. 

Fun Fact: Did you know that the Earl of Sandwich’s wife is called Lady Sandwich? The current Lady Sandwich is Susan Caroline Hayman, married to John Montagu, the 11th Earl of Sandwich, since 1968.

For proof of just how hard it is to go after Google in court over Android, just ask Oracle. The once great server company wanted to sue Google over the use of Java in Android (a court case that was far more interesting than any Apple/Samsung patent trial because of the primary issue of whether APIs could be copyrighted or not) and was wholly shut down by judge and jury. In the end, Oracle’s rhetoric and its lawyer’s jabbering effected little change as Android has taken over the world of mobile computing.

Apple And Google: Cold War Frenemies 

Apple and Google used to be great friends. Google’s chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt used to be on Apple’s board of directors while Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin basically worshipped at the altar of Steve Jobs. The falling out between the companies started over Android, which Jobs promised to crush to his dying day. Schmidt vacated his Apple board seat in 2009.

Apple and Google have been engaged in a cold war ever since. Just like the Russians and Americans never really engaged in direct warfare against each other, Apple and Google have never gone been to court as foes. In the cold war, the Russians invaded Afghanistan and the Americans supplied and taught the Afghani warlords to defend themselves. The Americans attacked Vietnam and the Russians and Chinese supplied and taught the Viet Cong. Apple attacks Samsung, and Google is there to indemnify its top manufacturer from significant damage. And so on.

Quote Of The Day: “But Aliren should be conscious that, lying behind the massive allure of the capital market, there is unparalleled ruthlessness and pressure. In this market, only a small number of outstanding enterprises can maintain a gallop.” ~ Alibaba founder Jack Ma in a letter to the company’s employees (the Aliren) announcing Alibaba’s filing for initial public offering in the United States.

Apple and Google have even had their own version of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was called “Apple Maps,” and it involved Apple kicking Google Maps off of the iPhone and iPad as the default navigation app, starting with the release of iOS 6 in 2012. 

Google will eventually get its day in court to defend itself from Apple. Sort of. Google is currently battling a company called the Rockstar Consortium, a patent assertion entity (read: patent troll) that was created when a group of five companies (Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, Ericsson and Sony) bought Nortel’s patent portfolio for $4.5 billion at a bankruptcy auction in 2011. Rockstar is now suing Google over patents related to its search technology as well as basically every Android manufacturer it can find. Chinese manufacturer Huawei has already settled with Rockstar. 

Google will be a tougher nut to crack: It has already won a key point in the court battle, ensuring the trial will take place in California, not in U.S District Court, Eastern Texas Division (a court long favorable to patent assertion entities), as Rockstar had hoped.

The Rockstar Consortium is just another proxy in Apple’s legal battles against Google and Android. So the cold war between two of the most dominant countries in the world will continue.

More On Google, Apple & Samsung

  • Recode’s Ina Fried was on scene for just about the entire Apple/Samsung case and produced several good articles on the decision. Fried says Google’s role in the case was “intriguing,” but didn’t determine the outcome.
  • Fried also notes how Google came out a winner in the case when the jury found Samsung didn’t violate the Google supported patents. 
  • Joel Rosenblatt at Bloomberg reports Samsung will appeal the decision. Of course Samsung will appeal, that’s just how these things work. Samsung says that the verdict “was unsupported by evidence.”
  • John Jeff Roberts at Gigaom calls the entire trial a waste of time, except for fanboys and lawyers. Roberts has a good point in that the verdict means very little to consumers, Apple or Samsung in the general scheme of things.

Vanity Fair’s Kurt Eichenwald does a great job of re-reporting many things that were already known about the contention between Apple and Samsung. The Vanity Fair piece doesn’t shed too much new information that wasn’t already available to anybody that has been paying close attention to the court cases over the years, but is a great roundup of the dubious legal history of Samsung and Apple’s battle to bring the Korean giant to heel. 

Lead image courtesy of Nerds On Call on Flickr

Great ! Thanks for your subscription !

You will soon receive the first Content Loop Newsletter