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Apple and Samsung to try mediation in smartphone patent dispute

In April 2012, the CEOs of Apple Inc. and Samsung were embroiled in a wide-ranging, international patent infringement dispute over smartphone design. Under pressure from a U.S. federal judge, the two CEOs agreed to attempt to settle the case through mediation. That attempt failed, the case went to trial, and a jury found that Samsung had indeed infringed on Apple’s patents. For that and another patent infringement claim brought by Apple, Samsung has been ordered to pay nearly $1 billion in damages.

Now the two companies find themselves at odds again, with Apple accusing Samsung of infringing more patents. The dispute involves some of Samsung’s newer devices, including the Galaxy S3, and the issue involves patents protecting the functionality, rather than design, of the iPhone. That means the dispute has the potential to be more far-reaching, and potentially more costly.

The two companies have once more agreed to attempt mediation, even as court documents indicate that Apple has already spent around $60 million in litigation fees for the case. According to Reuters, the parties met last week to discuss a possible settlement, although a trial has already been scheduled for March. The parties have until Feb. 19 to hold mediation sessions.

Will this attempt at mediation succeed? The same two CEOs are involved, and time is short.

One intellectual property consultant doesn’t hold out much hope, asserting that companies find much less to fear from patent litigation than they once did. A few years ago, a lost infringement case could result in a court injunction that could be potentially devastating financially. Under the current state of U.S. and international patent law, however, many patents appear to have been issued in terms too broad to survive, particularly in the fast-moving technology industry. Those that survive court scrutiny, on the other hand, are often too narrow to have much financial impact.

Fear of litigation, of course, is not the only good reason to settle. As the same consultant points out, similar disputes have been successfully resolved through licensing agreements. That way, the accused infringer can continue selling its product while compensating the alleged patent-holder.

Mediation continues to grow in popularity among companies large and small that become involved in business and commercial disputes. Whatever its success in this case, it’s positive news that major corporations are making the attempt.

Sources: 

  • CNN Money, “Apple-Samsung mediation talks: Don't hold your breath,” Philip Elmer-DeWitt, Jan. 9, 2014
  • Reuters, "Apple, Samsung CEOs agree to mediation in U.S. patent fight," Edwin Chan and Andrew Longstreth, Jan. 9, 2014

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