To most of us, tech giants Apple Inc. (AAPL), Google (GOOG), and Microsoft (MSFT) occupy a titanic stature. We may worship at the altar of one, condemn the tyranny of another, and speculate in hushed whispers on the third, only to reverse our stances entirely.
Regardless of our opinions, it would be difficult to go even one day without at least brushing against an i-This, a G-That, or a Windows Whatever. They are ubiquitous.
Thanks to a surge in patent litigation, their ubiquity has spread from the commercial to the juridical sector where the latter has expressed a distinct lack of amusement at the frequent and far-reaching intellectual properly battles. To several high-profile judges, Apple, Google, and Microsoft are behaving more like petulant children than major corporations.
Microsoft vs. Motorola/Google
Presiding over a patent dispute between Microsoft and Motorola Mobility, a Seattle judge issued a scathing critique of both firms in early May. Judge James Robart stripped the veneer of righteous indignation off the proceedings, stating, “The court is well aware it is being played as a pawn in a global industry-wide business negotiation.”
At the time, Motorola was in the process of being acquired by Google, a deal which closed later in the month. Robart evenly condemned the dispute between Redmond and Schaumberg, saying the case was “arbitrary,” “arrogant,” and “based on hubris.” Both sides have since agreed to pause their cases in Washington, pending a crucial ruling expected late this year.
Apple vs. Motorola/Google
Judge Richard Posner went a step further in June, throwing out in its entirety a series of suits and countersuits of patent infringement between Apple and the now Google-owned Motorola. Posner, a highly regarded jurist and a prolific contributor to the bodies of legal and economic literature, had pointed out arguments from both firms as particularly“silly” or “ridiculous” prior to his June ruling. He dismissed the entire case “with prejudice,” barring both claimants from refiling any of the component claims.
True to form, Apple and Google have each appealed Posner’s decision.
Apple vs. Samsung
It gets better. Apple has been vigorously pursuing Samsung’s (SSNLF) Galaxy Tab 10.1 in multiple countries for what Cupertino considers willful copying of its own iPad. A British judge last week threw out Apple’s claim in the UK, concluding that the Galaxy was “not as cool” as the iPad. Furthermore, Apple was ordered to run ads online assuring visitors that Samsung’s tablet did not edge too close to the iPad’s glass-and-aluminum je ne sais quoi. The British court has driven home the squabbling siblings metaphor, essentially forcing big bully Apple to apologize and make nice with its geeky younger brother.
One overseas setback is nothing to a company that is ready to wage thermonuclear war in defense of its IPs, of course, even if Apple has been trying to downplay the apocalyptic angle. Apple recently secured a ban on the Galaxy Tab 7.7 in Germany which may extend to all of the EU, and will be seeking $2.5 billion from its Korean rival when a case in California goes before a jury next week. Down in Australia, however, Judge Annabelle Bennett has joined Robart and Posner in calling out perceived corporate exploitation of the justice system.
The Australian case of Apple vs. Samsung is “ridiculous,” according to Bennett, who could see no reason why the companies should not be ordered to mediation. If the two firms cannot provide a convincing argument by next week as to why private negotiations would not provide a more efficient and expedient resolution, Apple and Samsung will be kicked out of the courtroom and back to the boardroom, with patent judges worldwide wishing the rest of the industry would follow suit.
By Christopher Graf
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