Apple, Samsung to Settle Patent Disputes Out of Court

Apple and Samsung, which have been embroiled in patent lawsuits for more than a year, have agreed to meet in an attempt to resolve their disputes outside of litigation, after a U.S. judge ordered the two companies to participate in a settlement conference. Both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Samsung CEO Gee-Sung Choi have agreed to enter into a settlement conference.

Why can't we be friends? (Photo credit: ShutterStock)

Apple and Samsung have sued each other in 10 countries over alleged patent infringements involving each company’s respective smartphones and tablets. Apple alleges that Samsung copied the iPad and iPhone’s design and packaging, while Samsung claims Apple is infringing on certain cellular data-related technical patents. The two currently have 20 standing lawsuits in 10 countries worldwide, including South Korea, Australia and Japan in the Asia-Pacific.

The earliest court hearings are scheduled for July this year, and the International Trade Commission will likewise hear a parallel case this June. However, California district court Judge Lucy Koh has recommended that Apple and Samsung first look into Alternative Dispute Resolution, and the two companies have agreed, offering representation by each corporation’s CEO.

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.

According to Florian Mueller of the FOSS Patents blog, this carries significant weight, given that both chief executives have been cooperative. “[I]f only one of them had made the CEO available, the other one would have appeared to be less than constructive,” believes Mueller, who has been observing the case since the start.

Both Apple and Samsung stand to gain from a possible out-of-court resolution and settlement of the issue, given that both are major business partners. Apple sources a good number of its touchscreen panels and flash memory from Samsung. Apple is also Samsung’s biggest customer. Both have kept their legal battles separate from business, although Apple is reportedly planning to shift sourcing supply to another firm, in case its relationship with Samsung goes south.

The two companies could potentially strike a cross patent licensing deal, which is common among technology companies. Apple actually has cross-licensing deals with Nokia, in which the Cupertino, CA company is paying a lump sum plus annual payments to Nokia for the use of certain technologies. Microsoft likewise earns a hefty sum annually from licenses paid by Android smartphone manufacturers.

There is no assurance, though, that the two companies will agree to terms, although Apple has started softening its stance against Samsung and Android when Tim Cook took over as CEO from the late Steve Jobs.