Just hours before Apple is due to unveil what many think will be a new version of its best-selling iPad tablet, Samsung has tried to steal a little thunder by filing a lawsuit against the Cupertino company over patent violations in the newest models that Apple has on the market as of this morning, the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2. The suit was filed in Samsung’s home market of Korea.
Given how these patent suits have come to represent almost as much in public mindshare as they have in terms of actual licensing deals (and, more loftily, questions of originality in device design), this could be seen as a well-timed and key move by Samsung. But it also appears to be a reversal of strategy…
On the one hand, Apple has been storming the smartphone market since re-energizing with its iPhone 4S launch last autumn, and we could well see a similar effect in tablets if it launches a new iPad today — as many believe it will. Putting in a lawsuit before the launch is one way of Samsung keeping up its challenge against that onslaught.
But on the other hand, lodging a suit in Korea seems to mark a change in strategy in terms of how Samsung has decided to approach these legal battles.
Korea is actually one of the few markets that has seen Samsung drop suits against Apple: in November 2011, Samsung dropped a separate patent suit over the iPhone 4S, and at the time it looked like one of the main reasons was because it actually looked more like negative rather than positive PR for Samsung’s spin doctors.
At the time, a senior Samsung official, quoted in the Chosunilbo daily, noted, “We concluded that we should engage in legal battles with Apple only in the global market, but not in order to gain more market share in Korea.”
Fast-forward to today, and it may well have been that PR just formed one part of the decision (and maybe even a small part), while Samsung worked out a better and more powerful suit against Apple. While the original suit only pertained to Apple’s iPhone 4S, this latest, according to an article in Reuters, covers the infringement of three patents in both the iPhone 4S and the iPad 2.
The three patents pertain to data display, user interface and short text messages. While the first two sound very general, the third is a bit more specific but it’s still not clear exactly what that last one means: possibly the abbreviations that Apple lets you program to expand into longer phrases?
On a wider level, Samsung and Apple are still actively going after each other in a number of other countries, including Australia, Germany, France, Italy and the U.S — 30 cases in all covering 10 countries, covering technical as well as design patents used in their respective ranges of mobile devices.
Those cases are not proving to be one-sided in their outcome although there have been some notable and possibly debilitating injunctions on Samsung tablets in the process, specifically in Germany and Australia. Apple is also involved in patent cases against other Android-based device makers, most notably HTC and Motorola Mobility.
To be sure, Samsung and Apple have been fairly liberal with the amount of suits they have going on against each other right now, but it’s probably also worth pointing out that Samsung also got a bit more active in its filings around the time of the iPhone 4S launch (particularly in Europe) so we may see more coming from the company in the days and weeks ahead.
We have reached out to both Apple and Samsung for comment and will update this story as we learn more.
Update: Samsung has provided TechCrunch with a statement on its position in the case in Korea. It says that the patents here are different from those in the case filed in April 2011, which pertained to telecoms standards (those that fall under so-called FRAND licensing):
“Samsung has today (March 6) filed a lawsuit against Apple in the Seoul Central District Court over its continued infringement of three utility patents in its iPhone 4S and iPad 2.
This lawsuit is separate from the proceedings filed against Apple in Seoul in April 2011 regarding infringement of telecommunications standards-related patents.
Samsung will continue to assert its intellectual property rights and defend its investment in innovation in order to ensure our continued growth in the mobile industry.”
Update 2: An Apple spokesperson declined to comment on this today.