Japan gives Samsung a chance to turn tide

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Japan gives Samsung a chance to turn tide

Samsung Electronics’ victory over Apple in a Tokyo court shows that global judges won’t automatically heed a $1.05 billion U.S. jury verdict issued in California a week earlier.

A Tokyo judge ruled on Friday (Pacific Standard Time) that Samsung smartphones and one of its tablet PCs did not infringe on an Apple invention for synchronizing music and video data with servers.

Apple won the verdict in the United States on Aug. 24, with a jury finding that its Korean rival infringed on six of seven patents filed for mobile devices.

While the rulings dealt with different patents, courts outside the United States tend to discount jury verdicts because they lack legal reasoning typically included in judges’ rulings, lawyers said.

The companies are battling over the smartphone market, estimated by Bloomberg Industries to be worth $219 billion last year, with patent lawsuits raging on four continents.

“German patent judges do take notice of rulings from the U.K. or the Netherlands,” said Peter-Michael Weisse, an intellectual-property attorney at the Wildanger law firm in Germany. There are at least three hearings and one ruling in Apple-Samsung patent cases this month in the country. “The farther away you get from Europe, the less influence foreign rulings have.”

Since the verdict was handed down by a San Jose, California, jury, which normally does not have to specify how it reached its conclusions, there is little that judges from other nations can rely on as precedent, lawyers from Europe and Australia say.

The U.S. jury verdict was a “decision without reasons” and is not “particularly persuasive,” said John Swinson, an intellectual property lawyer at King & Wood Mallesons in Brisbane, Australia.

“Legally, it has almost no consequence.”

Courts around the globe have issued divergent rulings on similar intellectual property disputes between the companies.

While the San Jose jury found that Samsung’s Galaxy Tablet 10.1 does not violate a design patent that Apple filed for its iPad, a German court last year issued a ban over an equivalent right Apple registered in the EU.

Australian and Dutch courts have also issued rulings that contrasted with decisions in the U.S. case. Samsung won a victory of sorts in the U.K. in July when a London judge ruled that the Galaxy tablets were not “cool” enough to be confused with the iPad.

The United States differs from many other jurisdictions in having patent cases decided by juries, while many other countries, including the U.K., use specialist patent judges, said Kathleen Fox-Murphy, a lawyer at Taylor Wessing in London.

“Of course, the decision in California is of interest, but it will not influence the decisions of courts in the U.K. or other jurisdictions,” Fox-Murphy said.

U.S. lawyers, appealing to a jury, rely on secondary factors such as the commercial success of a product or internal communications, such as e-mails from Google urging Samsung to make its devices look less like Apple’s, Swinson said.

While such evidence might support a legal conclusion, it does not necessarily address technical patent rules, he said.

While a huge U.S. damage claim verdict may not influence how judges rule elsewhere, it can have an effect on the tactics of the litigants, said Weisse.

Because the U.S. consumer market is so large, a ruling can force the losing party back to the bargaining table for a global settlement.

“If losing these patents does not particularly hurt Samsung, the pressure may not be that high,” Weisse said. “Also, sometimes the litigation has become so intricate and the hate so strong, that such a verdict does not affect the situation much.”


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