Phoney war over: Apple and Samsung end their long-running patent dispute

28 Jun 2018

Apple iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphones. Image: Nebojsa Markovic/Shutterstock

As patent battles go, this one over smartphone technology that ran since 2011 has been epic and costly.

A patent infringement case brought by Apple against Samsung, in which it accused the South Korean tech giant of ripping off the iPhone in a case that went all the way to the US supreme court, is over.

Yesterday (27 June), Apple and Samsung ended a seven-year legal battle that ignited a series of lawsuits over patents across the globe but mostly centred in courtrooms in the US.

Both Apple and Samsung notified a district court yesterday in San Jose, California, that “they have agreed to drop and settle their remaining claims and counterclaims in this matter”.

Judge Lucy Koh of the northern district of California signed the order dismissing all suits with prejudice. This means another case cannot be filed on the same claim.

The settlement amount agreed between the two tech giants was not disclosed. A jury in May ordered Samsung to pay Apple $539m for infringing on its patents.

Who holds the moral high ground?

The epic legal odyssey began in 2011 when Apple first sued Samsung for allegedly copying the design of the iPhone in its Galaxy smartphone products.

This first skirmish exploded into a full-scale battle as suits, trials, countersuits and appeals led the two companies to the supreme court in 2016.

At one point, Apple sought $2bn in damages when Samsung argued it owed $28m.

Meanwhile, the technology at the heart of the case – including everything from the design of the phones, the layout of icons and buttons on screens to the functioning of the devices – has been overtaken or eclipsed by newer technologies.

Crucially, what was really at stake was the market for mobile devices, and which of the two companies held the most sway. Despite all the expense and drama, the dispute has done little to impede the march of technology or the companies filling their respective coffers and making shareholders wealthier.

While Apple may have won a moral victory and has been awarded a pile of cash, Samsung still remains as potent an enemy as ever in the multibillion-dollar smartphone market.

So, what did the whole saga achieve? Very little, materially. The case captivated the tech world and Apple can now be satisfied that it has made its point.

“We believe deeply in the value of design, and our teams work tirelessly to create innovative products that delight our customers,” Apple said in May.

“This case has always been about more than money. Apple ignited the smartphone revolution with iPhone and it is a fact that Samsung blatantly copied our design. It is important that we continue to protect the hard work and innovation of so many people at Apple.”

Apple iPhone X and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus smartphones. Image: Nebojsa Markovic/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years