I don't know if you noticed, but there's an epic legal battle under way.
Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) is facing off against Samsung in the Northern judicial district of California in front of a full jury. It's but a small skirmish in a much larger war fought around the globe, but an important one nonetheless. The outcome here will have a huge influence over the mobile wars. These are the two biggest and most successful smartphone makers in the world, each accusing the other of offenses so grave that iPhones and Galaxy handsets should be illegal to sell in America -- or anywhere else.
The trial promises to be long and packed with entertaining fireworks. So far, Samsung's lawyers have managed to offend judge Lucy Koh but deflect the threat of crippling sanctions that Apple wanted the honorable gavel-wielder to impose.
Fun and games
It's to the point where Apple-friendly observers muse that Samsung might actually want a mistrial just to drag the case out as long as possible. Samsung lovers, on the other hand, say the South Korean company just wants crucial evidence included in the case, lest we'd suffer a miscarriage of justice.
Judge Koh seems already frustrated at this very early point, chiding the parties get down to business. "I will not let any theatrics or sideshows distract us from what we are here to do, which is to fairly hear this case," she said on Friday.
Moving forward, Samsung will not be allowed to show the jury how Apple's original iPhone design just might be inspired by existing handsets from Sony (NYSE: SNE ) or perhaps the less palpable design essence of the Japanese electronics rival. On the other hand, Apple can't claim a quick and easy total victory from Samsung's procedural gaffes. The case is just too central to the future of our smartphone future to allow that kind of technical knockout.
Mountains of paperwork
So what's left to consider? Well, more than 1,000 filings of evidence, for starters. Even so, both sides are itching to introduce even more evidence. It's hard to say exactly what will come of this paper blizzard without a Palantir at my side.
However, it's pretty clear what's at stake here. If Apple wins on every count, Samsung will have to change many, many design details before releasing another Android handset or tablet. Apple basically lays claim to rectangular phones covered in touchscreens, all wrapped in rounded corners and minimalist design. Samsung's Galaxy line does indeed meet that description, but it's up to the jury to decide whether that's a deal-breaking lack of innovation or just a sensible and obvious design.
On the other hand, Samsung owns patents on much of the technology that makes a phone out of the iPhone, and Apple never signed a license to use it. This counterattack is less about taking a rival off the market and more about fair payment for industry-standard inventions. But both sides actually come out looking somewhat ridiculous in this over-the-top battle of barristers.
And it'll be a huge mess of "he said, she said" before we get the final verdict. Again, I wouldn't blame the judge for throwing up her hands in disgust and declaring that all these contrasting claims just cancel each other out. That's pretty much what happened when Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) challenged Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) over the Java-based code that makes Android tick, with neither side winning anything big from the other. You can call it a Google win if you want, but it's more of a return to how Android looked before Larry Ellison trained his legal eagles on the platform.
All right, already! What happens next?
I happen to believe there are huge differences between the iPhone line and Android smartphones. It doesn't take a design genius to tell them apart at a glance, including telltale signifiers like Apple's beloved circular "home" button, very different handset sizes, and Apple's strangely welcoming boxy shape versus Samsung's more sweeping rounded edges. The question is how these details translate into readings of the law.
Whether one side ends up owing money to the other doesn't matter much to me, given the two titans' ultra-deep pockets. I just want them to settle their legal differences and get on with the real business of making ever-more fantastic products for us typical consumers. That way, everybody wins.
Sit back and get an oil drum of popcorn ready. While waiting for next week's second act in this courtroom drama, you should grab a copy of our red-hot premium report on Apple. That deep analysis of Cupertino's business will keep you informed and entertained for hours, and then you even get a year's worth of timely updates as Apple makes market-moving news. Get started now.