SAN JOSE, California (Reuters) - Samsung Electronics Co Ltd told jurors that its products are not copycats of Apple Inc’s iPhone but rather an example of legitimate American-style competition from the South Korean company.
Lawyers for both tech giants faced off on Tuesday for opening statements in the highly anticipated U.S. patent trial, where Apple has accused Samsung of stealing iPhone features like scrolling and multi-touch.
The stakes are high: Apple is being tested on its worldwide patent strategy against Google’s Android operating system, while Samsung faces the threat of sales bans on its Galaxy line of phones and tablets.
Apple attorney Harold McElhinny said Samsung’s own internal product analyses show it deliberately chose to rip off the iPhone, but Samsung lawyer Charles Verhoeven said all companies produce such documents.
“It’s called competition,” Verhoeven said. “That’s what we do in America.”
The world’s largest consumer electronics corporations have been waging legal war around the world, accusing each other of patent violations as they vie for supremacy in a fast-growing market for mobile devices. They sell over half of the world’s smartphones.
The legal fight began last year when Apple sued Samsung in a San Jose, California, federal court, accusing the South Korean company of slavishly copying the iPhone and iPad. Samsung countersued.
The federal courtroom in San Jose, California was jammed on Tuesday with lawyers and reporters, with more spilling into an overflow room next door equipped with a video feed. Both companies relied on slides featuring various phone models, internal emails and news reports to make their points.
Apple attorney Harold McElhinny showed slides that featured old Samsung phones from 2006 and compared it to the Korean company’s newer smartphones from 2010.
The key question, McElhinny said, would be how Samsung moved from the old phones to “these phones.” And even though Apple is a successful company, he said, it must defend its rights when someone steals their property.
“Artists don’t laugh that often when people steal their designs,” McElhinny said.
Samsung has sold 22.7 million smartphones and tablets in the U.S., reaping $8.16 billion in revenue, he said. Apple is seeking damages of over $2.5 billion.
Samsung’s Verhoeven countered that many iPhone features, like its popular minimalist design, had already been thought up by others before its release.
“Samsung is not some copyist, some Johnny-come-lately doing knockoffs,” he told the jurors.
Verhoeven added: “There’s a distinction between commercial success and inventing something.”
McElhinny showed jurors an internal Samsung product analysis which said the iPhone’s hardware was “easy to copy.” Verhoeven said Samsung’s analyses were what all companies do in the smartphone industry, including Apple.
Before opening statements began on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh dismissed one of the jurors, a woman who works as an insurance agent. The woman said her employer would not pay her salary during jury service.
The nine member jury is now made up of seven men and two women.
The South Korean company has also levelled claims against Apple on five of Samsung’s own patents. Another Apple attorney, Bill Lee, said those only came up after Apple began demanding that Samsung stop copying Apple’s products.
Verhoeven noted that Apple is one of Samsung’s biggest customers for smartphone components.
“Samsung isn’t in the habit of suing its business partners, even if it could,” he said.
Overall, Apple’s McElhinny said Apple has a unique vision that technology should be about much more than just functionality.
“The evidence will be that Apple has made that vision a reality,” he said, “so much that it really is hard to remember what phones looked like before.”
The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, is Apple Inc v. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd et al, No. 11-1846.
Reporting by Dan Levine and Poornima Gupta; Editing by Tim Dobbyn, Richard Chang and Phil Berlowitz