Apple, Samsung to Resolve Smartphone, Tablet Patent Disputes
Apple and Samsung have been on an all-out war against each other for the best part of 2011, with either claiming patent infringements by the other. With some successes and failures in each one's patent claims, Apple and Samsung now appear to be willing to settle their disputes outside of costly court litigation and potentially damaging injunctions.

Apple has been adamant at attacking Android, which it claims to be a "stolen product" based on its own iOS, and had been targeting Android handset manufacturers in a proxy war against Google. Samsung, which is currently the number two smartphone manufacturer after Apple, has been accused of copying the design and packaging of the iPhone and iPad with its own Galaxy and Galaxy Tab line of smartphones and tablets.

Meanwhile, Samsung has accused Apple of infringing on its own technology patents relating to data communication. Both companies have sought injunction against each other's products in 10 countries around the world, including the U.S., South Korea and Australia. Apple has had some successes so far, which prompted Samsung to redesign its products in some markets. But even then, delays in product release can be costly, especially in terms of lost revenue.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The two companies are set to go on trial this July, and evidentiary hearings with the International Trade Commission are scheduled for June. But it might turn out that neither party will have to pursue litigation, as both have expressed interest in resolving the matter outside of the patent lawsuits, Reuters reports.

Within 90 days (about mid-June), the two companies will get into an Alternative Dispute Resolution, as recommended by Judge Lucy Koh, the federal judge presiding over two of Apple's and Samsung's lawsuits in California. Both companies have made representations that both their CEOs and chief legal counsels will be present at a Magistrate Judge Settlement Conference, to be presided by Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero.

As directed by the Court, Apple and Samsung are both willing to participate in a Magistrate Judge Settlement Conference with Judge Spero as mediator. At Apple, the chief executive officer and general counsel are the appropriate decision-makers, and they will represent Apple during the upcoming settlement discussions. At Samsung, the chief executive officer and general counsel are also the appropriate decision-makers, and they will represent Samsung during these settlement discussions.

FOSS Patents Blog's Florian Mueller, who has been monitoring and commenting on the dispute since the beginning, observes that there is a related precedent, which involves Google and Oracle, which went into settlement conferences last fall and just this April. However, the two companies did not arrive at an amicable settlement, and will pursue litigation.

Learning Opportunities

The case between Apple and Samsung is seen to be more hopeful, though, given that both companies' CEOs -- Apple's Tim Cook and Samsung's Gee-Sung Choi --will be present as decisionmakers for their respective sides. Cook, himself, was earlier quoted to say that Apple might be willing to take a softer stance on the patent disputes compared with his predecessor, the late Steve Jobs, who was willing to do "thermonuclear war" with Android, not wanting to settle with any company found to be infringing on its intellectual property.

What This Means for Smartphone,Tablet Market

Apple and Samsung can be considered "frienemies" in the smartphone and tablet business. Samsung supplies touchscreen displays and memory chips to a big part of its iPad, iPhone and iPod touch product lines. Apple, meanwhile, is Samsung's biggest client. Estimates peg the business between the two companies at US$ 8 billion annually.

The patent dispute has resulted in some losses for both. Samsung was issued an injunction against certain Galaxy Tab models in Australia, and had to release a redesigned model to meet Apple's requirements. Meanwhile, Samsung likewise sought an injunction against the iPhone 4S in Australia, France and Italy, although without success.

An amicable solution between the two parties might involve a cross-patent licensing deal, similar to what Apple had with Nokia, and likewise Microsoft's patent licensing deals with Android manufacturers HTC, LG and Samsung itself. Apple is rumored to be attempting to source screen supplies elsewhere, with its investment in Taiwan's Hon Hai, which owns Foxconn and which has partnerships with Japan's Sharp Electronics. However, striking a settlement deal with Samsung might be the less expensive solution for Apple in the long run. Perhaps then, both Apple and Samsung can focus on building better devices for the mobile market.