SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Co. agreed to lay down their arms in nine countries overseas where they had litigation pending, taking another step in the slow de-escalation of their long-running patent war.
In a joint statement, the bitter smartphone rivals said that they would drop all claims against each other abroad, halting litigation in Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain and the U.K.
Legal watchers who had scratched their heads about the companies’ inability to settle the battle thus far were somewhat surprised by the truce announced Tuesday, which leaves intact litigation unfolding in the U.S. and does not include licensing arrangements.
“This looks more like a cease-fire than an actual peace treaty,” said Durie Tangri partner Mark Lemley. “There’s nothing that prevents these parties from starting up litigation again in the future, except the fact that maybe they’re tired and they’ve both spent a lot of money.”
The shape of the pact suggests that Apple and Samsung disagree about how the U.S. litigation will turn out on appeal, said Brian Love, an assistant professor at the University of Santa Clara School of Law. Samsung has appealed both of the parties’ U.S. cases, which yielded more than $1 billion in damages for Apple.
“They may have, essentially, agreed to wait and see who’s right,” Love said.
Apple and Samsung waged their marquee patent battles before U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose. Their first trial in August 2012 ended in a $1.05 billion award to Apple, which was later scaled back to $930 million after a damages retrial last year. The parties reunited in Koh’s courtroom this spring for a trial that yielded $119 million for Apple, a fraction of the $2.2 billion sought by the Cupertino-based company.
Samsung was on the defensive in the U.S., but the South Korean company was on a litigation tear overseas, asserting standard essential patents against Apple more than 40 times. Samsung prevailed three times, winning two findings of infringement in South Korea and one in the Netherlands.
Though fighting on multiple fronts gave each side more chances to land an elusive sales ban, Apple and Samsung may have finally found the jet-setting inefficient, said Bernard Chao, an assistant professor of law at the University of Denver.
“It could well be that this is just, ‘Why are we fighting the same battle all over the world?’ which is extremely expensive,” Chao said.
Many legal watchers already sensed that the smartphone war was slowing down. In June, Apple and Samsung abandoned their appeals of a patent infringement case in the International Trade Commission. In May, Apple and Google, which aligned with Samsung as the creator of the Android operating system, agreed to halt cases over Motorola Mobility.
That deal also lacked a licensing component, suggesting that Apple may still be wary of opening up its technology, Lemley said. Licenses may set a bar for damage awards in other cases, he noted. And they can also trickle down the supply chain.
“One possible motivation could be that Apple is worried about whether parties who are upstream or downstream would be able to claim protection with that license,” he said.
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