Insight: Apple vs Samsung lawsuit full of secret combat

Fri Dec 2, 2011 9:07am EST
 
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By Dan Levine and Carlyn Kolker

(Reuters) - The biggest legal battle for the technology industry is playing out in a federal court in Silicon Valley, where Apple is trying to stop Samsung from selling Galaxy phones and tablets in the United States.

In the lawsuit, filed in April, Apple accuses Samsung of "slavishly" ripping off its designs for the iPad and iPhone. Although there is worldwide interest in the case, the proceedings have largely been shrouded behind a veil of secrecy: most of the court papers are sealed, meaning they can't be viewed by the public.

Filing documents under seal has become almost standard procedure in many intellectual-property cases -- like Apple versus Samsung -- as companies claim their trade secrets and confidential information could come out during litigation. Judges have surprisingly wide latitude in deciding what should be kept under wraps and what shouldn't.

Some courts, like the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where the case is being heard, have rules requiring that judges specifically sign off on every request to seal a document -- but these rules set no deadline.

In the Apple/Samsung case, some secrecy requests have languished for months while investors, academics and tech bloggers struggled to piece together whatever bits of information were available.

In every instance that she did issue a ruling on a sealing motion, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose granted the request. Just this week she approved six more motions to seal. Samsung's most crucial legal brief became available after months of delay -- and then only in redacted form.

The stakes here are high: Samsung had 23.8 percent of the global smartphone market in the third quarter, nine points higher than Apple. Yet Samsung's holiday sales could be jeopardized if Koh, who is expected to rule any day, grants Apple's motion to halt Samsung's sales of Galaxy.

Lack of transparency in the courts troubles many observers.   Continued...

 
<p>An employee of South Korean mobile carrier KT holds a Samsung Electronics' Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet (R) and Apple Inc's iPad tablet as he poses for photos at a registration desk at KT's headquarters in Seoul August 10, 2011. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak</p>