Samsung, Apple head for courtroom confrontation

After 17 months of filings, a patent battle with enormous stakes for both companies shifts to a San Jose, Calif., courtroom this week.

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Monday marks the start of the U.S. trial between Apple and Samsung, two companies that have spent the past 17 months attempting to disembowel one another with legal filings -- all while quietly doing business together that helps keep them afloat.

The dustup between the two is of intense interest, not only in Silicon Valley, but to the electronics world at large.

At stake for Apple is a possibility to convince a jury -- and perhaps the world -- that one of its biggest rivals could only have gotten where it is by copying Apple technology. Beyond that, the company is vying to keep Samsung's products off store shelves, with the potential threat to do the same to others if the bid is successful.

Samsung, meanwhile, will attempt to make the case that Apple's hottest gadgets -- the iPhone and iPad -- would have been impossible to develop without its technology. Furthermore, it contends that if Apple is successful against it, the outcome could "stifle legitimate competition," with a corresponding impact on consumers.

Both of these arguments were made in pretrial claims filed by the two companies last week. With either side, the case centers on the importance of intellectual property. Patents, both for the design of gadgets, as well as the inner workings of software, are being used as ammunition. The implications will be especially noteworthy if one of the companies comes out on top, making any patents involved more valuable.

To help tell that tale will be witnesses from both sides. Apple and Samsung both get 20 people to make their case. That includes Apple senior vice presidents Phil Schiller and Scott Forstall, two regulars during the company's public sales presentations, who now get to answer questions under oath. Others on the stand include industrial designers from both companies, patent experts, inventors, and computer scientists.

In the run-up to the trial, which is expected to last about four weeks, legal documents have unearthed a wealth of information that was not previously available to the public. That includes myriad photos of early iPhone and iPad prototypes , e-mail correspondence between executives, and full transcripts of depositions from expert witnesses, which had been recorded over the past few months. Both companies are working to keep some of that out of the courtroom, but parts could make it in as evidence.

At the center of it all is the relationship between the two companies, which, suffice to say, can only be described as complicated. Even as it's throwing punches in court, Apple is Samsung's largest customer. Apple buys LCD panels, flash memory, and the chipsets that power its iOS devices from the South Korean technology giant. Apple also dropped $100 million into one of Samsung's semiconductor subsidiaries back in 1999 to ensure it could help get enough screens for its iBook laptop.

That relationship, and its long-term outlook, is likely to be tested, depending on how the trial plays out. While experts believe that the two will simply reach a settlement, the fact that the struggle has already reached this point without a private resolution suggests this may very well be a long, drawn-out fight.

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CNET will bring you full coverage of the trial -- which is slated to begin today with jury selection, and potentially opening arguments.

 

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