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Apple jurors grappled with complex patent issues
Question of the Day
SAN JOSE, CALIF. (AP) - The youngest juror, a 24-year-old whose favorite court attire was T-shirts bearing names of rock bands, chose a Beatles sweatshirt for Friday’s dramatic unveiling of the $1.05 billion verdict in favor of computer titan Apple Inc. One of the oldest was a retired electrical engineer who, as foreman, signed the unanimous verdict that Samsung Electronics Co. copied Apple’s patented technology for the iPhone and iPad. Among the other seven jurors were a homemaker, a bicycle shop manager and a U.S. Navy veteran.
The decision Friday by this panel of people from many walks of Silicon Valley life was one that experts say could dramatically alter the future of computer tablet and phone design if the verdict stands. But the case also is part of a trend that has accompanied an explosion in the number of patent infringement cases, especially in the technology sector.
Increasingly, these highly complex disputes are being decided by juries, rather than judges, and the juries tend to issue more generous awards for patent violations.
That has companies on the receiving end of successful patent infringement lawsuits crying foul and calling for reform in the patent system, but it also has some legal experts questioning whether ordinary citizens should be rendering verdicts and fixing damages in such high-stakes, highly technical cases.
“That’s a great question … and it’s the subject of a fair amount of current debate,” said Notre Dame University law professor Mark McKenna.
Deliberations in the Apple v. Samsung battle were far more challenging than most. The jury was confronted with hundreds of questions on a 20-page verdict form that was more complicated than a U.S. tax return. They had in the jury room more than two dozen electronic devices at issue, 12 patents to decipher and 109-pages of instructions from the judge on rendering a verdict.
“This case is unmanageable for a jury,” Robin Feldman, an intellectual property professor at the University of California Hastings Law School, said before the verdict. “There are more than 100 pages of jury instructions. I don’t give that much reading to my law students. They can’t possible digest it.”
“The trial is evidence of a patent system that is out of control,” Feldman said. “No matter what happens in this trial, I think people will need to step back and ask whether we’ve gone too far in the intellectual property system.”
Apple filed suit in April 2011, accusing Samsung of essentially selling illegal knockoffs of its popular iPhones and iPads. Apple demanded $2.5 billion in damages and an order barring U.S. sales of the Samsung products in question. Samsung countered with its own claims, accusing Apple of using wireless technology it owned.
The jury arrived at its verdict after less than three days of deliberations, far swifter than many experts thought in view of the many complex issues.
The foreman, Velvin Hogan, a 67-year-old electrical engineer, told the San Jose Mercury News on Saturday that the panel was methodical. “We didn’t whiz through this,” said Hogan, who relied on his own experience patenting inventions. “We took it very seriously.”
Hogan, who does not own Apple products, said the first task was to determine if Apple’s patents were valid. Using his own experience getting a patent, Hogan said he had a revelation on first night of deliberations while watching television. “I was thinking about the patents, and thought, `If this were my patent, could I defend it?’” Hogan recalled. “Once I answered that question as yes, it changed how I looked at things.”
The jury did not completely grant Apple’s demand for at least $2.5 billion, Hogan said, but they “wanted to send a message to the industry at large that patent infringing is not the right thing to do, not just Samsung.”
Although the jurors all promised to weigh the evidence fairly, jury consultant Ellen Brickman said Samsung started out the underdog for several reasons. Apple is based just 10 miles from the courthouse, jurors have a predisposition to side with patent holders, and Samsung is a foreign-based company fighting a domestic outfit during tough economic times.
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