Samsung Electronics Co.’s victory over Apple Inc. in a Tokyo court shows that global judges won’t automatically heed a $1.05 billion US jury verdict issued in California a week earlier.
A Tokyo judge ruled Aug. 31 that Samsung smartphones and a tablet computer didn’t infringe an Apple invention for synchronizing music and video data with servers. Apple won the verdict in the US on Aug. 24, with a jury finding that its Suwon, South Korea-based rival infringed six patents for mobile devices.
While the rulings dealt with different patents, courts outside the US 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 on four continents.
“German patent judges do take notice of rulings from the UK or the Netherlands,” said Peter-Michael Weisse, an intellectual-property attorney at the Wildanger law firm in Germany, where there are at least three hearings and one ruling in Apple-Samsung patent cases this month. “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 doesn’t have to specify how it reached its conclusions, there isn’t much judges from other nations can rely on as precedent, lawyers from Europe and Australia say.
The US jury verdict was a “decision without reasons” and isn’t “particularly persuasive,” said John Swinson, an intellectual property lawyer at King & Wood Mallesons in Brisbane, Australia. “Legally, it has almost no consequence.”
Alan Hely, a spokesman for Cupertino, California-based Apple, referred to the company’s Aug. 24 statement in which it said it was “grateful to the jury for their service.” Samsung also referred to its Aug. 24 statement where the company said the US verdict wasn’t the “final word” in courts and tribunals around the world.
Samsung shares were unchanged in Seoul trading today after falling 1.2 percent yesterday. Apple asked the San Jose court on Sept. 1 for a ban on US sales of new Galaxy smartphones.
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 doesn’t violate a design patent 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 US case. Samsung won a victory of sorts in the UK in July when a London judge ruled that the Galaxy tablets weren’t “cool” enough to be confused with the iPad. The US differs from many other jurisdictions in having patent cases decided by juries, while many other countries, including the UK, use specialist patent judges, said Kathleen Fox-Murphy, a lawyer at Taylor Wessing LLP in London.
“Of course, the decision in California is of interest, but it will not influence the decisions of courts in the UK or other jurisdictions,” Fox-Murphy said.
US 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 doesn’t necessarily address technical patent rules, he said.
“Australia takes a technical legal view,” Swinson said. In the U.S., lawyers rely more on the “commercial view.”
While a huge US 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 US 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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t affect the situation much.”