Samsung Case Puts Apple Closer to Google Fight

By Claire Cain Miller, The New York Times


SAN FRANCISCO — Steven P. Jobs minced no words when talking about Android, Google’s mobile operating system, which he saw as too similar to the iPhone’s. He told his biographer, Walter Isaacson, that Android was “a stolen product” and said, “I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this."

But so far Apple has not gone to war with Google, at least not directly. Instead, Apple has sued the cellphone makers that use Android in their products — like Samsung, which was hit with a claim of more than $1 billion in damages on Friday when a jury found that it had infringed on some of Apple’s patents.

Now, though, the war is drawing closer to Google’s doorstep. Google is increasingly making its own hardware, thanks in part to its acquisition of Motorola Mobility, or playing an integral part in designing it, as it did with the Nexus 7 tablet. And the jury in the Samsung trial found that features built into Android, and not just features added by Samsung, violated Apple patents — potentially forcing Google to adjust its software.

It would be difficult for Apple to prove that Google is benefiting financially from patent infringement, or that Google, and not the hardware manufacturers, is directly responsible for potential damages caused to Apple, said Robert P. Merges, faculty director of the Center for Law and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley. That could change as Google makes or designs more products itself.

If Apple really went after Google, Mr. Merges said, it could end up hurting its own products. The iPhone includes a Google search bar in its Safari browser, and Google offers some popular apps, like one for Gmail, in Apple’s App Store. A direct attack could compel Google to remove such features from the iPhone and make it a less attractive product to consumers, he said.

Google declined to comment on whether it would make changes to Android. But when it comes to features like tapping to zoom, it may have to “design around” Apple’s patents and safeguard itself and its hardware partners, said Robert Barr, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley and former patent counsel for Cisco Systems.