SAN JOSE — It was the end of a long week in court in the Apple-Samsung legal war, and Samsung attorney John Quinn was trying to block his adversary, Apple attorney Bill Lee, from showing the jury a document. As Quinn made his argument to US District Judge Lucy Koh, he slipped in a reference to Koh's pre-trial order blocking sales of some Samsung products — a subject Koh had forbidden the parties from discussing in front of the jury.
"That was improper," said Koh. "I apologise, your honour," Quinn responded. "I have a difficulty believing that was not intentional," said the judge. Koh allowed the document into evidence. But her admonishment provided the jury with a glimpse into the unusual tensions roiling beneath the lofty courtroom arguments about who might have illegally copied whose technology.
Outside the jury's presence, Apple and Samsung lawyers regularly accuse each other of unfair ambushes, dirty public relations tactics and even doctoring evidence.
Quinn took the extraordinary step of issuing a press release on documents that Koh barred from the trial — an open display of defiance that suggested a legal strategy aimed at creating courtroom chaos. Quinn says he intended nothing of the sort.
Elite trial lawyers normally display a certain professional comity in court, but little of that is apparent in this case. An exasperated Koh has taken to managing the trial like a schoolmarm, regularly scolding her errant charges and resorting to tactics like deducting from the time they have to present evidence if they make superfluous arguments.
The trial, which will determine whether Samsung violated Apple patents in creating competing smartphone and tablet-computing products, is now in its second full week, and is expected to run through the end of August.
Despite some key pre-trial rulings Koh issued against Samsung, during trial itself the judge has given the jury no signals as to who she thinks is in the right.
Rather Koh, a 44-year-old appointee of US President Barack Obama, appears to take the view that if the two sides would just act like grown-ups and pursue rational self-interest rather than sling mud at one another, there wouldn't be a trial at all.
This week, Koh wistfully returned to a idea she first raised at a pretrial hearing over one year ago.
"You didn't file any objections yesterday, and I was hoping that maybe you had settled," she said. But in a case that is more about professional pride and long-term market power than money, there appears to be little basis for a settlement before the verdict.
The two companies are close collaborators in many areas, as Apple is one of Samsung's biggest customers for smartphone and tablet components. Yet in court they seem determined to fight to the death. Their executives pass one another in the hallways without making eye contact. — Reuters