Apple Wants Courts to Hold Samsung Accountable for 'Unclean Hands'

Apple wants the court to make sure there are repercussions for Samsung wrongdoings in the ongoing court battles between the two companies. Apple has asked the court to declare that Samsung has "unclean hands," and to bar certain Samsung executives from engaging in licensing negotiations because they improperly obtained confidential information.

There ain't enough soap, brother....

Dirty Hands

According to FOSS Patents, Apple filed the motions with Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal as part one of several patent infringement cases Apple and Samsung are fighting. The move comes in reaction to outside law firm Quinn Emanuel having shared highly sensitive and confidential Apple and Nokia licensing terms with Samsung in direct violation of the process set up by the court.

While Quinn Emmanuel's attorneys were given access to the licensing terms in question, they were supposed to keep them secret. Instead, the firm posted them to a Samsung FTP server where they were accessible by scores of Samsung employees, including executives like Dr. Seungho Ahn, a licensing negotiator for the South Korean electronics giant.

Back in October, Judge Grewal expressed dismay at this behavior and opened up the possibility that Samsung could suffer sanctions because of it. He asked Apple to explain why he should impose sanctions, while Samsung was given the opportunity to explain why he shouldn't. Tuesday's filings from Apple were in response to that request.

While Samsung has so far painted the incident as a minor oops—Dr. Ahn blithely dismissed it by saying, "all information leaks"—Apple wants Samsung to have consequences for its behavior. These include:

Unclean Hands

Apple wants the court to declare that Samsung has 'unclean hands,' a legal term meaning that Samsung hasn't behaved equitably,and as such is not entitled to injunctive relief should Apple be found to infringe on Samsung patents. Tim Worstall at Forbes does a good of of explaining this in layman's terms.

The short version, however, is that if Samsung has dirty hands, it won't be able to ask for injunctive relief—as in a sales and import ban—if Apple were to be found guilty of infringing on Samsung's patents. Injunctive relief is a form of equity protection, and an entity that has behaved inequitably is not entitled to equitable remedy.

Public Shaming

Apple's attorneys also asked the court to order Samsung and its attorneys to publicly acknowledge their misbehavior, including informing all parties involved in other cases as to their misconduct. This is somewhat like a UK judge's order earlier this year forcing Apple to advertise in a newspaper that Samsung had not copied its design patents (because Samsung's devices "weren't cool enough" to be a copy).

It would be rad for Samsung and its attorneys to have to do that, but be sure that if even if Judge Grewal doesn't grant Apple's request, everyone playing in this arena will know of Samsung's misconduct because the case is so closely watched.


Apple wants the individual Samsung executives held accountable, too, with a court order excluding them from negotiating mobile-related licenses for the next two years.

According to FOSS Patents, Apple asked the court to "prohibit [Samsung chief licensing executive] Dr. Ahn and other Samsung executives (including those responsible for licensing and/or managing Samsung's litigation with Apple) who improperly obtained Apple's and other companies' confidential business information from negotiating any mobile-device licenses for Samsung for the next two years."

That would be an interesting sanction, and it would directly effect the executives who were given access to and shared this confidential information, but it's frankly hard to believe that said information wouldn't be shared with any other potential negotiators, too. Call this my cynical side.

Nokia, Too

Apple isn't alone in wanting some accountability. Nokia—which is now owned by Microsoft—is asking that Samsung be prohibited from using the information it obtained in its own negotiations with Nokia.

More biting is the request that Quinn Emmanuel be barred from representing Samsung in any action where Nokia is on the other side of the table. The company argued that it can't trust that Quinn Emmanuel will treat confidential material in an appropriate manner.

Mr. Mueller characterized that as "a bit over the top" and unnecessary. For what it's worth, I agree with that assessment, and I'd be surprised if it was granted.


Samsung's filing iterated the company's position that the sharing was inadvertent, and that nothing naughty was done with it anyway—this, despite the fact that it was Dr. Ahn who told Nokia during his negotiations with that company that he already knew the terms that Nokia had reached with Apple.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.