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Google, Facebook get behind Samsung in patent battle with Apple

Along with eBay, Dell and HP, the tech giants have filed a legal brief arguing that if the current court decision stands -- particularly, the damages -- it could have a "devastating impact" on the industry.

Samsung has some major backers in its ongoing battle with Apple over patents. Josh Miller/CNET

Some of the technology industry's biggest companies have filed a motion with a US court to support Samsung in its ongoing patent battle with Apple.

A coalition of companies led by Google, Facebook, eBay, and PC makers Dell and Hewlett-Packard filed a brief with the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit this month, supporting Samsung's plea to have damages related to its alleged infringement of Apple's patents either reduced or dropped entirely.

"If allowed to stand, that decision will lead to absurd results and have a devastating impact on companies...who spend billions of dollars annually on research and development for complex technologies and their components," the companies said in a statement to the court filed on July 1, but reported by the Guardian on Tuesday.

The companies argue that Apple's victory in 2012 in a landmark case against Samsung covered only minor technologies. They added that the Korea-based conglomerate should not be forced to pay a significant sum in damages -- in this case, in the hundreds of millions of dollars. They argue that if upheld, the infringement, which is still being appealed, could set off a ripple effect that could negatively affect companies attempting to develop "useful modern technologies."

The companies' filing, called an amicus curiae or "friend of the court" brief, is a symbolic show of support for Samsung. The companies are in no way tied to the case between Apple and Samsung, but by filing the brief, they have expressed to the court their desire to put their full support behind Samsung in its ongoing proceedings with Apple. In some cases, such a brief can have a profound impact on rulings, while in others, it can mean little. The US Court of Appeals has not publicly commented on the brief.

The breadth of companies included in the brief, however, illustrates its unique importance in Silicon Valley. At first blush, many of the companies included in the brief -- most notably eBay -- would seemingly have little interest in a case centered on smartphone design. The companies argue, however, that a court ruling in favor of a company that, they believe, has brought minor patent infringement claims against another could hurt the entire industry. The companies may also be concerned that a ruling in favor of Apple could open them up to their own patent infringement lawsuits.

"The panel's decision in this case regarding the appropriate measure of damages for the infringement of design patents will have significant ramifications for [the companies filing the brief] and the technology industry more generally," the brief reads.

A look back

The issues with Samsung and Apple date back to 2011 as the companies sued each other in the US, a host of countries in the European Union, and Asia. Both Apple and Samsung argued that the other was violating patents each held related to mobile technology. Over the years, the companies' top products -- including Apple's iPhone and iPad line, as well as Samsung's Galaxy line -- were entangled in the proceedings. Both companies hoped to ban the sale of allegedly infringing products and receive damages on their sale.

In the first major decision in the case, Apple was awarded over $1 billion by a jury in 2012. In March 2013, US District Court Judge Lucy Koh argued that the damages assigned by the jury were too high and trimmed $450.5 million from the sum. In November, a jury awarded Apple an additional $290.5 million in damages over alleged infringement, giving the company a total of approximately $930 million in owed damages.

The international cases Apple and Samsung were waging were scuttled last year after the companies decided to only face off in US court.

For its part, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has already chimed in on the Apple-Samsung case. The court upheld earlier rulings in May over Apple's intellectual property, but said that guilty verdicts against Samsung that it violated Apple's trade dress -- a legal term that refers to the way a product is packaged or presented -- were inappropriate. The court ordered a lower court to review the $382 million in damages related to trade dress, opening the possibility of those charges eventually being tossed out.

In their brief with the court, the companies argued that the US court "erred" in its decision on all other matters. The companies asked the court to reconsider the appeal and urged it to examine all of the earlier decisions, including those it earlier endorsed. The companies did not refer to another patent infringement case the companies are battling in which Apple has asked the court to force Samsung to remove alleged patent-infringing features from its Galaxy handsets.

Despite their ongoing legal issues, Apple and Samsung are still offering new products and competing in the worldwide smartphone market. On Monday, research firm TrendForce revealed that Samsung was the top smartphone maker in the world in the second quarter, nabbing 26.8 percent market share. Apple took the second spot at 16.4 percent share.

Neither the companies nor the court immediately responded to a request for comment.