Samsung v Apple gets contempt of court-y

The Korean tech giant released prohibited evidence to the press, angering the presiding judge

Apple versus Samsung got off to a turbulent start yesterday, with the presiding judge, Lucy Koh, berating the Korean tech giant for what looks very much like attempted contempt of court.

Apple's lawsuit, which is over allegations that Samsung deliberately copied Apple's patented designs for the iPhone for its own smartphone products, is matched by a countersuit from Samsung, alledging that Apple is in breach of its own patents relating to mobile phone technology. Apple is attempting to portraty its opponent as an admitted copycat which only resorted to patent suits when it couldn't defend its designs on their own merits, while Samsung is trying to argue that Apple is the real copycat.

Some of the evidence presented yesterday is more compelling than others. Apple pointed to internal Samsung documents describing the iPhone as "easy to copy", while Samsung argues that much of what Apple claims is "magical" design was in fact industry standard long before the iPhone.

However, Samsung was angered by the judge's decision not to let them submit some evidence to the jury which they deemed crucial. Two arguments, that Apple itself may have ripped off Sony, and that Samsung had an iPhone lookalike in development before the phone's release, were prevented from being presented in court due to late submissions.

Both these arguments have been in the public domain for several days now, and the Sony claim isn't as strong as Samsung may hope. The company pointed out that Apple itself sent round an internal brief to design a "Sony-like" phone, which would eventually become the iPhone. The problem Samsung has it that this is the Sony phone (pic) they alledge Apple ripped off, and it is a far cry from the outcome of that prototyping session, the "Jony" phone (pic), named after Apple designer Jony Ive. Meanwhile, the difference between Samsung's Vibrant (pic) and an iPhone is less obvious.

But the latter defence is one that the company may regret not getting in. The Verge has a picture of the slide Samsung were hoping to show the jury, which shows five different internal prototypes of touchscreen, one-button phones in development before the iPhone's announcement in January 2007.

Unfortunately, while the decision by the judge not to allow that to be shown in court may have damaged Samsung's chances, the company itself may have done far worse. Immediately following Judge Koh's final rejection, Samsung "emailed its rejected slides regarding F700 development and the 'Sony-style' prototype to the press with a statement saying 'The excluded evidence would have established beyond doubt that Samsung did not copy the iPhone design,'" according to the Verge's Nilay Patel.

Worse still, the statement argues that "fundamental fairness requires that the jury decide the case based on all the evidence". One person's plaintive cry of unfairness sounds a lot like another's nudge-and-wink suggestion that the jury ought to see evidence banned from court anyway. Judge Koh was "livid" when she found out, and demanded to know who authorised the release. This is a move that could come back to haunt Samsung.

Spot the difference... A Samsung and an Apple phone.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.