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Sep 21, 2011
Apple-Samsung war complicated by symbiotic nature of California and South Korea
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The war between Apple and Samsung reignited in late August. Apple received an injunction from a German court barring Samsung from selling its Galaxy tablet in Germany. The court agreed with Apple that Samsung’s tablet is too close in both interface and aesthetics to the famous iPad. The war between Apple and Samsung is still heating up; however, often lost in the conversation is the highly interrelated nature of the two tech giants.

The war between Apple and Samsung can hardly be said to be one-sided. For its part, Samsung filed countersuits in Australia this week. In the original suit, Apple alleges that the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Galaxy S are too close to the iPad and iPhone, respectively. In the countersuit, Samsung fires back that the iPad and iPhone infringe upon certain wireless technology patents. Things heated up even further on Monday when a PCMag.com report stated that Samsung plans to sue Apple in Korea once the iPhone 5 launches. The iPhone 5 suit is expected to resemble the aforementioned Australian countersuit closely.

Using international courts to fight domestic battles is nothing new. After losing a lawsuit against Pepsi-Cola for copyright infringement, Coca-Cola had to promise never to sue Pepsi-Cola for the same matter again, domestically — then promptly began suing Pepsi-Cola everywhere else in the world but the United States. Now, whenever one or the other enters an international market second, the other quickly files suit for copyright infringement.

One major difference between cola lawsuits and the current tech war, however, is that Pepsi and Coke are hardly reliant upon one other. Samsung and Apple have a highly symbiotic relationship. For example, Apple is Samsung’s largest flash memory customer. Not only will Samsung feel it in the pocketbook if Apple stops buying, but many key components of Apple’s consumer electronics line such as the iPad, iPod and iPhone can’t be made without Samsung’s flash memory. What the world has with the ongoing Apple and Samsung war is a high-tech Mexican standoff. Both companies hold the key to the other’s destruction — though their own is nested inside, somewhere just below the surface.

Still, this isn’t to say that a “nuclear option” for either company is unthinkable. Even as this article goes to press, there are signs of a fraying relationship between California-based Apple and the South Korean tech giant Samsung. Apple might be moving to TSMC for its new A5 processor, rather than relying upon longtime partner Samsung.  The move, while possibly done for entirely practical concerns (TSMC processors are smaller and possibly faster), could not have come at a worse time and certainly will not help to mend fences.

Apple and Samsung are currently engaged in 20 IP disputes internationally in Germany, the UK, the Netherlands, France, Italy, South Korea, Japan and Australia, as well as in the United States. Apple received injunctions in Australia, Italy and Germany. The two companies have gone before the International Trade Commission, each asking the other to ban the rival’s products in the United States. Stay tuned in the coming weeks. The Apple-Samsung rivalry has far-reaching implications for the world of IP, tech and international law.

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