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Apple and Samsung slug it out, landing blows on consumers and innovators

Long-running feud continues in a California court this week, the latest round in a bitter patent battle

Apple and Samsung returned to the courtroom this week to resume a bitter litigation battle in which future innovators and the consumer could end up among the biggest losers.

At the heart of the latest case — playing out in front of a judge in San Jose, Calif. — are five patents Apple says Samsung has infringed on in its newer devices. In a counterclaim, Samsung says Apple stole two of its ideas to use on iPhones and iPads.

But whatever the outcome, it could be the customer who ultimately ends up paying the price. Experts say the litigation could lead to more expensive smartphones and devices, and could also lead to a slower pace of innovation for mobile devices.

"The most direct effect of this patent fight on consumers would be if the judge blocked one of these popular phones from the market," said Rutgers Law School professor Michael A. Carrier.

Small tech firms also have reason to worry. "What's even more worrisome for the effect on innovation is the impact on small innovators," said Carrier. "Apple and Samsung can afford this litigation. The next upstart cannot."

Although both tech giants have plenty of cash to see through the court battle, it could nonetheless dent their piggy banks.

If Apple wins the current case, the cost to Samsung could reach $2 billion. Apple's costs, if it loses the litigation, is expected to be about $6 million.

In opening statements Tuesday, Apple attorney Harold McElhinny told the eight-member jury that Samsung had sold over 37 million phones and tablets that infringe its patents, and deserved an average royalty of $33 per phone.

"They will try to tell you that our inventions were and are trivial," McElhinny said. "And that they are not valuable."

McElhinny said Samsung could not compete with Apple and had reached a crisis by 2010. "It copied many many features," he said.

However, Samsung attorney John Quinn said the South Korean company's phones use Google’s Android operating system. The features Apple is claiming to own were actually developed by Google, which did not copy Apple, he noted.

"We will prove to you that, yes, Apple is a great company but they don't own everything," Quinn said. "They don't own the only way to search on phones."

Many experts point out that Apple’s fight with Samsung is really about Apple’s fight with Google, the manufacturer of the Android software. According to Samsung, four of the five infringement claims are about Android features, and Google engineers are expected to testify on Samsung’s behalf in the case.

In attempting to win a sales ban against Samsung, Quinn said Apple is trying to recover its leading position in the smartphone market.

"What this case is really about is Apple trying to limit consumer choice and to gain an unfair advantage over its one main competitor, Google's Android," Quinn said.

Both sides invoked Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died in 2011, during opening statements. McElhinny played video of Jobs launching the iPhone, saying the device embodied over 200 inventions and remade the way people communicate.

Quinn, however, pointed to a 2011 document written by Jobs, saying Apple was in a "Holy War" with Google and that the iPhone maker was in danger of losing its advantage as an innovator in the smartphone market.

The San Jose court battle is but the latest being played out between the rival firms. Jurors awarded the iPhone maker about $930 million after a 2012 trial, but Apple failed to persuade U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to issue a permanent injunction against the sale of Samsung phones.

A sales ban would be a far more serious threat to Samsung, which earned $7.7 billion in the quarter that ended in December. Samsung's mobile division, which includes smartphones, generated operating profit of $5.1 billion.

The trial is expected to last until early May.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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