By Kim Yoo-chul
With Samsung Electronics staggering from a stomach punch in its high-profile intellectual property dispute with Apple, Google seems unsure whether it should step in to support its friend or look the other away.
Samsung, the world’s largest mobile-phone maker, has been the undisputed flagship carrier of Google’s Android mobile operating system, the industry’s most convincing challenge against Apple’s robust consumer smartphone presence.
The Korean technology giant was handed an overwhelming loss by a jury in San Jose, which awarded Apple $1 billion in damages in backing its claims that Samsung had copied the look and feel of the revolutionary iPhones and iPads.
This crushing loss was an alarming development for Google, which sees Apple widening its battle front against Android makers. The company apparently doesn’t want the Samsung setback to drag the whole fleet down and is now distancing itself from its most critical business partner.
``The court of appeals will review both the infringement and the validity of the patent claims. Most of these don’t relate to the core Android operating system and several are being re-examined by the U.S. Patent Office,’’ Google said in a statement sent to The Korea Times, Monday.
This is the first time Google officially commented on Samsung’s defeat at the San Jose court. The company seems eager to argue the Samsung-Apple feud as a case example isolated from the rest of the Android bunch.
While the mobile industry is moving fast and all players are building upon ideas that have been around for decades, Google said, the issues between Samsung and Apple deal with Samsung specific software implementations and hardware design decisions.
The statement didn’t please Samsung executives, some of them saying they were ``unhappy.’’ Google assisted Samsung in the U.S. court battles, offering advice on legal and technology-related issues, similar to the way it has been helping other Android makers like HTC.
Industry watchers believe the San Jose verdict will end up exposing the seams of what had been a tight Samsung-Google relationship.
``What Google is trying to do is to make it solely a Samsung vs Apple fight instead of an Apple vs Android one. After the court decision in San Jose, Google seems to be distancing itself from its key Korean partner,’’ said one industry source.
A piece of evidence provided in the San Jose courtroom involved conversations between Samsung and Google in 2010, which showed Google requesting Samsung to make changes in its smartphone software because it was too similar to Apple’s iOS. Industry people wonder if this is one of the reasons why Google might attempt to distance itself from Samsung.
``Because the Samsung-Apple fight is going to lengthen, become more bitter and continue to be very controversial, Google doesn’t want to be seen actively backing Samsung,’’ said another industry official in Seoul.
Samsung had hired law firm Quinn Emanuel as its legal counsel during the trial, the same firm that Google has used for a number of their patent and copyright cases in the past.
Samsung’s lead attorney ― Charles Verhoeven ― also represented Motorola and HTC in separate cases brought by Apple.