The Apology Heard Around the World

Wimbledon just finished -- returning the most vaunted trophy in tennis to its rightful owner, by the way -- and London is abuzz with preparations for this summer's Olympic Games. But that's not enough global attention for the Brits. Judge Colin Birss made sure to keep worldwide attention on the U.K. with a legal decision that might change Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) legal fortunes far beyond the British Isles.

Birss is the judge who famously told Apple that the Samsung (OTC: SSNGY) Galaxy Tab couldn't be confused with an iPad because it simply wasn't cool enough. This week, he followed up that backhanded compliment (yes, more tennis!) with a very unusual order. Apple must admit in writing that the Galaxy Tab didn't copy Apple's iPad designs, and the apology must be posted both online and in British newspapers for all to see. Apple's U.K. web site will be adorned with said apology for at least six months.

Apple's lawyers don't like the order at all. "No company likes to refer to a rival on its website," says Apple attorney Richard Hacon, comparing the required apology to free advertising for the competing product. Samsung takes a different view, of course: Apple's copycat claims caused real damage to Samsung's brand value, so a public mea culpa is the least Cupertino can do -- especially since Apple kind of copied the iPad idea from way older sources to begin with.

The most interesting aspect of this order is this: Samsung will surely point other courts around the world toward the British apology statements in an attempt to overturn Apple's design-based attacks. It will be up to judges in Germany, the U.S., and Holland to decide whether a court-ordered concession holds any weight in similar cases.

If that tactic works out, Samsung could try to stretch the tablet-centric apology to cover Apple's many smartphone lawsuits. If the American company overstated the originality of its iPad design, the logic would go, then why wouldn't they do the same in smartphone battles?

This strange order notwithstanding, it's hardly game, set, and match for Samsung. Apple may be able to appeal the Birss order, other courts may decide to ignore Apple's forced admission of guilt and, hey, there's still a chance that the companies might settle their legal differences before anything goes to trial.

We're talking about the two far-and-away most successful competitors in the exploding trillion-dollar market for smartphones and tablets. Whatever the final outcome of this skirmish, the larger war makes and breaks fortunes. Learn more about Apple's mobile strategy in a brand-new premium report, or just grab our totally free report on the mobile market as a whole.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies mentioned. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2012, at 8:23 PM, nealdoughty wrote:

    So, Samsung did not copy the iPad. They simply tried and failed.

  • Report this Comment On July 20, 2012, at 8:53 PM, H3D wrote:

    This article is nonsense because the interpretation of the ruling is nonsense.

    Apple is required to post the judges ruling. This gives the judges ruling publicity. But it does not imply that Apple in any way agree with the ruling.

    So in what sense would it be an appology? Apple would be lying if they appologised.

    This is just one ruling in one territory by one judge, that has gone against them. It carries no more weight on the international stage than any ther one ruling.

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