Samsung has found a new way to make U.S. Judges angry by improperly acquiring confidential Apple and Nokia licensing agreements, and now the company is taking its act on the road by getting on the bad side of Australian Judges for doing exactly the same thing. The electronics maker is compounding the problem by failing to cooperate with court investigations into its actions, and it looks like the company is fine with that.
Samsung's new track record: Piss off the courts around the world
Samsung came under fire in U.S. Federal Court when information surfaced showing its outside legal team handed over confidential licensing documents from a deal between Apple and Nokia. The company then allegedly used the information in those documents to an unfair advantage in its own negotiations with Nokia.
The documents were supposed to be available only to special witnesses in Samsung's ongoing courtroom patent infringement fight with Apple, but its outside law firm, Quinn Emmanuel, posted unredacted versions of the files to Samsung's servers on at least four occasions. Nokia executives said that Samsung executive Doctor Seungho Ahn bragged about the confidentiality breach saying, "All information leaks."
Samsung has been dragging its heals in the U.S., and has worn Judge Lucy Koh's patience thin. She berated the company during a recent hearing saying, "Samsung's lack of information after three months is inexcusable, and necessitates Court-supervised discovery."
Now it looks like Samsung isn't done angering courts because they're doing the same in Australia. As part of Apple and Samsung's mobile device patent infringement fight in that country, Justice Annabelle Bennett has been asking pointed questions about the document leak, and so far hasn't been getting the clear answers she was hoping for.
The Judge in Australia is concerned that Samsung may have used the same leaked documents to its advantage in the country, and Samsung hasn't seemed concerned about letting Apple the U.S. courts know what's happening. Instead, the information has been coming from Apple's legal team -- most recently in a transcript from an Australian hearing from October 24.
Justice Bennett seemed to have little tolerance for Samsung's actions and less than forthcoming attitude. She said in court,
I really cannot believe that Samsung has not put itself in a position of being able to answer virtually any question – these are obvious questions – whether Samsung has not put itself in a position to be able to answer those questions immediately in Australia. I find that incomprehensible. I would have thought Samsung would have been – Ashurst [Samsung's Australian law firm in this case] would have been bending over backwards to ensure that everything about these confidentiality breaches was known and available and the information be made available to this court, and it would have been offered to the American court.
The transcript also has her asking very pointed questions such as, "Has the American court been told about the breaches in Australia?" And later, "I want to know whether the American court is aware that the similar – similar confidential information was breached in Australia in relation to the same person's report."
Samsung's track record with Apple in court hasn't been very good so far, and it doesn't look to be improving. The electronics maker has been fighting with Apple in courts around the world over mutual allegations of mobile device patent infringement, although so far it's Apple that's been scoring the significant wins.
The iPhone maker's highest profile win so far came in August 2013 when a U.S. jury ruled it wasn't infringing on any of Samsung's patents, but that Samsung was infringing on a long list of iPhone and iPad-related patents. That win led to over US$1 billion in damages awarded to Apple, although a portion of that was improperly calculated and a new trial to determine what should be done about that part is scheduled for November.
Samsung is also dealing with the European Commission's proposed antitrust settlement, and that may involve improperly acquired confidential licensing documents, too, according to FOSS Patents' Florian Mueller.
"Various stakeholders are working on submissions to the European Commission concerning Samsung's proposed antitrust settlement," he said. "Samsung's proposal is insufficient in its own right, and it's even more problematic when considering that Samsung has been improperly provided with confidential licensing information involving multiple companies (three of them European companies) that it could abuse in secret arbitration proceedings."
Samsung is at least consistent. It introduces new devices quick enough so that in the event Apple files an infringement lawsuit, they'll already be on to the next product before the court proceedings are underway. The company also drags its feet to slow down the process, and now it's doing the same in the licensing document investigations.
Whether or not Samsung's actions are arrogant is somewhat immaterial; the company has clearly able to get away with its tactics so far. That may, however, be changing at least so far as how it deals with confidential documents. The courts aren't pleased with Samsung's cavalier disregard for that confidentiality, and this time it could have more serious repercussions.
Justice Bennett in Australia looks ready to move forward aggressively and in the U.S. there's a possibility Samsung executives could find themselves held personally responsible. If so, they could face steep fines and even jail time.
For now, Samsung's defense has been that the document leaks were accidents, and that no one used them. It's no surprise that Samsung and its legal team are taking that approach to the situation, although it doesn't look like the Judges are buying it.
Instead, Samsung's actions are showing it to be a company that sees itself as above the law, and that's not going over well with the courts. Maybe it's time for Samsung to rethink its legal tactics.