Samsung wants details of Apple-HTC deal in a bid to prove licensing is possible

November 16, 2012
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Apple’s cross-licensing deal with Taiwanese smartphone maker HTC has set a precedent. That is, while Apple has been serious in pursuing legal remedies against companies that infringe on its software and design patents, the Cupertino, CA company is actually willing to settle these disputes either for monetary compensation or through cross-licensing deals.

This has lit up lightbulbs in Samsung’s legal minds, given their current legal battles with Apple. As Apple is seeking permanent injunctions on several of Samsung’s products, the iPhone-maker’s willingness to settle with other companies might actually be favorable to Samsung as a legal alternative. As such, the South Korean firm has filed a request with the court for Apple to provide a copy of Apple’s patent cross-licensing agreement with HTC.

As you know, the issue of Apple’s willingness to license its patents was briefed in Samsung’s opposition to Apple’s motion for permanent injunction. This license has direct bearing on the question of irreparable harm and whether monetary remedies are adequate.

The Apple-HTC deal, which was announced last week, says the terms of the agreement are confidential, although what’s clear is that it is a ten-year cross-licensing agreement that covers Apple’s and HTC’s “current and future patents.” But what is unclear is whether this involves all of both companies’ patents, or just some. Analysts believe HTC is paying Apple anywhere from $6 to $8 per smartphone sold as licensing fee. Given current HTC sales figures, this should amount to $160 to $200 million annually.

Some points to note:

  • The courts are usually reluctant to issue a permanent injunction on products if licensing deals or settlement can be done.
  • With the Apple-HTC deal as a precedent, this means an Apple-Samsung deal is likewise possible, in theory.
  • Samsung likely wants to know if the cross-licensing deals also include the so-called “holy patents” that Apple does not license out to competitors. These include patents that cover Apple’s “unique user experience” such as touchscreen functionality and design.

“The ability of technology companies to get injunctions on big products based on small inventions, unless the inventions drive consumer’s demand, has been whittled away significantly,” says Santa Clara Law professor Colleen Chien in an interview with Reuters.

Still, there is question whether this interest means Samsung is looking into a similar deal with Apple, or if this is simply a tactic to convince the court against issuing a permanent injunction. The two parties are set for another hearing this December 6th, during which the courts will iron out the ensuing decisions and events after the August verdict that ruled in favor of Apple.

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