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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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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