Cell division

Mobile phone giants square up for a big scrap over 4G technology

Tim Cook Apple
Tim Cook, CEO Apple

It was no big spoiler when an insider told The Korea Times last week that Seoul-based Samsung was – drum roll – planning to sue Apple over the iPhone 5.

Having already filed around 50 lawsuits in 10 countries the frenemies are now expected to argue over the iPhone 5’s fourth-generation (4G) capability, something Samsung’s Galaxy S III already has.

Partners on both sides (Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer for Apple, Bristows and Simmons & Simmons for Samsung) are no doubt licking their lips. The curtain rose on Apple’s blockbuster the same week the merged Orange and T-Mobile group, now called EE, revealed plans to roll out 4G in the UK.

“It’s a sad fact of life that whenever there’s a lot of money at stake litigation is always worth it,” comments one IP partner. “Until Samsung and Apple settle their disputes everything the other brings out will be open for attack.”

It’s all getting a little repetitive. Can’t the pair just call paxies and make life a bit easier?

“The problem is that Apple has put its eggs in the user-end design basket (such as the ‘slide-to-unlock’ function), while Samsung has invested in fundamental IP rights,” says an insider. “It’s led to both sides flailing around in a mudbath. The question in the end is whether you’re better off investing your money in essentials or focusing on the shinier, user end. At the moment, it’s hard to see.”

What is easier to see is what the pair will be squabbling over next – the announcement that 4G is going to be rolled out in the UK means big bucks for smartphone owners that support the technology. Should Samsung go ahead with a lawsuit in the UK and win – Samsung allegedly has 819 patents relating to 4G compared with Apple’s 318 – it could see Apple fall from the top of the tree, although this would be a slow fall, say patent experts.

“The UK has never been that receptive a jurisdiction to preliminary injunctions – particularly in respect of patent cases – and a lawsuit now would take some time to get to a full trial,” says one. “It is unlikely that UK courts are going to be taking either party’s products off the shelves anytime soon.”

Lucy Burton