Friday 13 December 2019

Apple and Samsung trial judge orders court to turn phones off

Apple attorney Harold McElhinny delivers opening statement in this courtroom sketch during Apple Inc vs Samsung Electronics Co Ltd case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Jose, California
Apple attorney Harold McElhinny delivers opening statement in this courtroom sketch during Apple Inc vs Samsung Electronics Co Ltd case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California in San Jose, California

Rhiannon Williams

US District Judge Lucy Koh has become increasingly frustrated during the first few days of the trial of Apple versus Samsung as the many personal Wi-Fi signals interfere with a network the judge relies on for a real-time transcript of the proceedings.

The phones also ring, vibrate and can be used to take photos; a serious violation of court rules.

In the first five days of trial, Koh has interrupted testimony by warning "Phones off!" and suggested she may force everyone to hand over their phones. She has also threatened to send all but a select few into an overflow room and has shamed those with phones turned on to "Stand up!" - which a few sheepishly did.

Apple is suing Samsung for $2bn after the Korean rival allegedly stole its hard-won inventions and put them in its own bestselling devices.

The California technology giant alleges that Samsung copied a string of ideas, including Siri, its voice-activated search service, and its “slide to unlock” feature, which allows users to activate their tablets and smartphones simply by swiping the screen. It also claims the Korean company copied technology that allows users to search for information, such as an address or telephone number, and then tap on the result to directly link to a map, or dial that number.

All of these inventions were Apple’s first, the company claims, but they have been used to boost sales of Samsung technology, such as the Galaxy tablet, at the expense of its own iPad and iPhone devices.

Judge Koh presided over Apple's previous lawsuit against Samsung in the same San Jose court room, also for patent violation, back in 2012. Apple won the case, and Samsung was ordered to pay $929m in damages.

The disturbances are unusual for a federal court, which is typically a quiet space with respect for tradition and decorum.

"Everyone make sure your cellphones are off so we don't have the same real-time issue we've been having," courtroom deputy Martha Parker-Brown warned on Tuesday.

Wharton School marketing professor David Reibstein was escorted from the court room after Apple attorney William Lee pointed out the former had been taking photos on his phone from the spectator benches. Reibstein was questioned by a marshal and required to erase the photos.

"I've never been in a federal trial before," Reibstein said after he was allowed to return. "I just didn't know the court rules."

The high-profile case attracted much media attention, with dozens of black-suited attorneys backed by rows of reporters and experts. Executives and staff members from the two companies sit on opposite sides of the courtroom and whip out their respective iPhones and Galaxy devices in the hallways during breaks.

Problems with smartphones surfaced almost immediately after the trial started, despite a sign asking people to turn off cell phones taped to the heavy courtroom doors.

As a jury was being picked, Koh ordered all phones off - several times. Nonetheless, some were occasionally heard ringing.

"Please turn your phones off. We don't want an angry judge," Parker-Brown said the next day before opening statements.

The judge and attorneys use the live transcript feed from a court reporter to review testimony and rulings when attorneys raise objections. But with so many computers, tablets and phones in the room, the feed often doesn't work.

Breaking for lunch on day five, Koh's tone was more subdued but her aggravation was apparent.

"Unfortunately the transcript died again this morning," she said. "Please if you're going to come in, keep your cellphones off. If you need your phone on, please go to the overflow room."

That didn't happen. Instead, when the trial resumed, she caught someone using a phone in court, threatened to bring in security, and then, irritated, asked why so many lawyers are using Wi-Fi at all.

"I don't know what all of you do," Koh said, noting all the online activity during court.

The trial is expected to last until the end of this month.

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