Apple hires Korean-speaking lawyers to combat Samsung

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Apple hires Korean-speaking lawyers to combat Samsung

Apple is beefing up its ability to understand the language of Samsung Electronics, its strongest rival in the realm of smartphones and tablets.

According to FOSS Patents, a blog specializing in technology patent issues that has closely followed the patent war between Apple and Samsung, Apple recently recruited a small army of Korean-American contract attorneys and document reviewers so that it can better read the lines - or between the lines - of the Korean-language documents in patent cases.

“Through two of the law firms it’s already working with, Apple now has access to 73 additional, apparently Korean-American lawyers as well as 20 document reviewers of the same ethnicity,” Tech-watcher Florian Mueller, who runs the blog, said in a posting on March 9. The two law firms are Morrison & Foerster, which works on Apple’s patent claims against Samsung, and Wilmer Hale, which defends Apple against Samsung’s claims.

The two law firms recently submitted to the International Trade Commission documents that contained the signatures of the newly-hired Korean-American lawyers agreeing to the terms of a protective order, according to Mueller. Law firms can share ITC documents with only those who have agreed to respect the protective order.

“Apple is facing a huge challenge in dealing with truckloads of Korean-language documents produced by Samsung in two federal lawsuits in California and two ITC investigations,” Mueller wrote. “There’s a substantial risk for Apple that it may miss out on important and potentially incriminating evidence” because few of its lawyers can read or search Korean documents.

Apple and Samsung Electronics and - the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 smartphone makers - have been engaged in numerous lawsuits concerning patent violations across the globe since April of last year. They now amount to about 30 different suits in 10 countries.

“Apple v. Samsung is a high-stakes battle and Apple’s budget is presumably large enough to bring in many Korean-speaking professionals at rates that should be attractive to them,” Mueller added. On Feb. 27, Apple’s market capitalization reached a record $500.1 billion. Apple now has at least twice the market cap of all but three other U.S.-listed public companies: ExxonMobil ($410.7 billion), PetroChina ($281.9 billion) and Microsoft ($267.4 billion.)

The patent expert said it’s likely that the lawyers are on contract to Apple for now, but good performers could be recruited by one of the law firms.

“The temporary recruitment of 93 people to analyze Samsung documents for Apple demonstrates the resolve with which the number one company in the industry is fighting against the number two. The message to Samsung is that the Korean language barrier is surmountable - with a bunch of cash,” he said.

The news comes less than a week after Dow Jones reported on March 7 that Apple has put forth proposals to Samsung Electronics and Motorola Mobility to settle some pending litigation in exchange for royalty payments on its patents.

Quoting sources familiar with the matter, the report said, “[Apple] indicated a willingness to cut deals with competitors,” adding “Apple isn’t attempting to offer patent licenses to all its competitors or create a royalty business.”

Samsung said it couldn’t comment on whether or not it received such a proposal from Apple. That same day, Samsung filed an additional lawsuit again Apple, saying the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 infringes upon three of its patents.

Dow Jones said its sources believe that “Android has proliferated so widely that shutting the software out of the market using injunctions is no longer practical [...] Licensing is an alternative that could add cost to Android development and make it less appealing for manufacturers.”

By Kim Hyung-eun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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