Apple headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino (Joe Ravi)
SAN FRANCISCO — Apple and Google have called a truce in the smartphone wars. But the cease-fire does not extend to Google’s Android partner Samsung.
Google and Apple issued a joint statement Friday announcing they’ve agreed to dismiss “all the current lawsuits that exist directly between the two companies.” The deal does not include a cross license. Nor will any money change hands as part of the settlement, a person with knowledge of the matter said.
The announcement comes just weeks after Apple won $120 million in its infringement trial against Samsung—a result that was widely viewed as underwhelming—and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ordered Apple and Google’s Motorola Mobility unit back to district court to hash out similar claims.
“At some point these companies were bound to settle,” said University of Denver law professor Bernard Chao. “They just couldn’t keep doing this.”
The two companies jointly moved Friday to dismiss the appeal decided April 25 by the Federal Circuit and another argued April 8. Federal Circuit Judge Kimberly Moore had expressed frustration with the parties at the April 8 hearing. “I don’t know what you people are doing,” she had said. “Why are you suing each other in 15 different courts and bringing completely unrelated counterclaims in these various actions?”
Chao said he was surprised the deal did not include a cross license. At first blush, he said, it sounded “slightly fictitious.” The parties might have framed their agreement as a covenant not to sue, he speculated, because a license could flow through to customers of each company. “The customer I’m thinking of, even though it’s not a ‘customer,’ is Samsung,” he said.
University of Santa Clara law professor Brian Love, who like Chao has closely followed the litigation, had the same thought. “This could signal a new strategy on Apple’s part to focus its litigation efforts even more squarely on Samsung, which is by far the largest Android phone manufacturer,” he said via email. “Apple settled with HTC in 2012, presumably to focus more squarely on Samsung and Motorola. This could represent a further narrowing of what Apple hopes to accomplish through litigation.”
Samsung actually proved its own case of infringement against Apple in their latest San Jose trial, though the company was awarded only $158,000. Apple had sought $2.2 billion for its claims, and Google claimed a victory of sorts when the jury awarded “only” $120 million.
Part of Samsung’s argument to the jury was that Apple’s real beef was with Google. “Playing nice with Google neutralizes Samsung’s ability to argue that it’s just a pawn in the real fight between Apple and Google,” Love said.
The Federal Circuit may also have added pressure by reviving a suit that Judge Richard Posner had dismissed for lack of damages evidence.
The Federal Circuit “opened up that front again and said, ‘Go for it,’” Chao said.
“Apple may have come to the conclusion that its suit against Motorola Mobility wasn’t likely to be cost-effective,” said Love.
The joint statement issued by Apple and Google said the two companies would also “work together in some areas of patent reform.” Last month, Apple joined a group of companies urging Congress to proceed with caution on its latest round of patent reform. Google is among those pushing harder for a broader crackdown on so-called patent trolls.