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(Reuters) – The biggest legal battle for the technology industry is playing out in a federal court in Silicon Valley, where Apple is trying to stop Samsung from selling Galaxy phones and tablets in the United States.

In the lawsuit, filed in April, Apple accuses Samsung of “slavishly” ripping off its designs for the iPad and iPhone. Although there is worldwide interest in the case, the proceedings have largely been shrouded behind a veil of secrecy: most of the court papers are sealed, meaning they can’t be viewed by the public.

Filing documents under seal has become almost standard procedure in many intellectual-property cases — like Apple versus Samsung — as companies claim their trade secrets and confidential information could come out during litigation. Judges have surprisingly wide latitude in deciding what should be kept under wraps and what shouldn’t.

Some courts, like the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where the case is being heard, have rules requiring that judges specifically sign off on every request to seal a document — but these rules set no deadline.

In the Apple/Samsung case, some secrecy requests have languished for months while investors, academics and tech bloggers struggled to piece together whatever bits of information were available.

In every instance that she did issue a ruling on a sealing motion, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in San Jose granted the request. Just this week she approved six more motions to seal. Samsung’s most crucial legal brief became available after months of delay — and then only in redacted form.

The stakes here are high: Samsung had 23.8 percent of the global smartphone market in the third quarter, nine points higher than Apple. Yet Samsung’s holiday sales could be jeopardized if Koh, who is expected to rule any day, grants Apple’s motion to halt Samsung’s sales of Galaxy.

Lack of transparency in the courts troubles many observers.

“For the judicial system as a whole, we want transparency so the public can have confidence in the judicial decision-making process,” said Bernard Chao, a professor at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law. “When things aren’t transparent, that view is undercut.”

In an email on Thursday, Koh declined a Reuters request for an interview on her sealing decisions in the Apple/Samsung case, or about her general policies. However, shortly after the inquiry from Reuters, Koh issued new guidelines governing sealed documents in her courtroom.

Koh’s guidelines, posted on her official website, mandated that parties file a redacted, publicly available version of every document that they seek to seal — at the same time they make the sealing request.

Koh and U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, who oversees certain procedural motions in the case, are newcomers to the federal bench and were both previously intellectual property lawyers representing companies at large law firms. They have not only granted many of Apple and Samsung’s sealing motions, in some cases, they’ve gone a step further.

During an October hearing on the proposed injunction, Koh, unprompted, asked Apple and Samsung if they wanted to seal the courtroom. When the lawyers said such a step wouldn’t be necessary and that they would not mention confidential material during the hearing, Koh commented, “I guess if you all can be careful not to disclose anything that requires sealing, then we can still have that with the open public.”

Representatives from Samsung did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday, and an Apple spokeswoman declined to comment.

Secrecy in the courts is an ongoing concern. The policy body of the federal courts recently reminded judges to limit broad sealing of cases, and interest groups such as Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union frequently intervene in cases where major records are sealed.

For their part, investors look at briefs and filings to see what kind of effect a patent is having on the marketplace, professors study them for novel legal theories, and lawyers track them for developments in intellectual property law.

Like Koh, many federal judges routinely grant requests to seal documents. In the Eastern District of Texas, where the docket is always clogged with patent cases, lawyers don’t even need permission from the judge to file documents under seal, said Michael Smith, an IP attorney who practices there.

“The court has made it as easy as they possibly can,” Smith said.

Judges say it’s a balancing act.

“It comes down to: ‘how do you see the interplay between transparency and protecting the interests of the party,'” said U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel, director of the Federal Judicial Center, in an interview. “Transparency sounds so noble, so apple pie, but the interests of the parties are important, too.”

The release of Samsung’s redacted brief this week demonstrates some of the inconsistencies in what gets sealed, and why.

Previously, Koh had sealed a separate document because, according to Samsung, it contained “unreleased product launch dates, and information relating to Samsung’s total number of employees, and the number of employees involved in the design and marketing of the products at issue.”

Samsung said references to other confidentially-filed motions in the case justified its sealing, and Apple did not object.

But in the key Samsung brief released this week, even the redacted version revealed not only numbers of Samsung employees (more than 8,500 engaged in telecommunications research and development projects), but also the dollar amount of its research and development costs (over $35 billion for electronics product lines from 2005 to 2010).

When there isn’t pushback from one of the parties, judges typically grant sealing requests without much scrutiny, said Chao, the University of Denver professor.

“I think at times they are just overwhelmed,” Chao said.

Even contemplating closing a courtroom, as Koh did, shows an unusual level of accommodation to the parties, said Richard Marcus, a professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law, and can also erode trust in the courts.

“Locking the courthouse doors in a trial-like situation is extremely rare and requires exceptional circumstances,” he said.

In fact, 50 miles from the Samsung/Apple battle, U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco has taken the opposite tack in the monster IP fight between Oracle and Google over the Android operating system.

Since Oracle brought suit in August 2010, Alsup has rejected more than a half-dozen requests from the companies to keep material secret and issued a number of harsh warnings.

Among other documents, Alsup unsealed an email drafted by a Google engineer saying Google needed to negotiate a license for Java — the programming language Oracle has accused Google of infringing.

Google investigated alternatives to Java for Android and concluded “they all suck,” the email said. Alsup even read the email aloud during a July hearing. (Google has asked an appeals court to overturn the unsealing).

“The United States district court is a public institution, and the workings of litigation must be open to public view,” Alsup wrote in an October order. Alsup declined to comment, as did an Oracle spokeswoman. Google representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

For David Sunshine, a New York lawyer who tracks technology cases for hedge fund investors, judges like Alsup who challenge companies on sealing requests make the job much easier. “I love those guys,” Sunshine said.

The Apple/Samsung case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is Apple Inc v. Samsung Electronics Co Ltd et al, 11-1846.

The Oracle case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, is Oracle America, Inc v. Google Inc, 10-3561.

(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco and Carlyn Kolker in New York; Editing by Amy Stevens, Eileen Daspin and Steve Orlosky)

(WIRED) — Google held two big events within 24 hours: one with its subsidiary Motorola in New York, and another with its partner Samsung in Hong Kong.

While there was some loose speculation around the web that maybe we’d see a new Xoom tablet or a preview of the next Galaxy Tab running Android’s new Ice Cream Sandwich operating system, the focus was rightly on what Google, Motorola and Samsung do best: making really great Android smartphones.

Ice Cream Sandwich is billed as Google’s unified mobile OS, working the same way on both tablets and smartphones. So far, though, what that means (as Google’s Hugo Berra wrote after Google I/O this summer) is that “Ice Cream Sandwich will bring everything you love about Honeycomb on your tablet to your phone.”

It’s about making the phone experience bigger, more interactive, more capable. It’s about making the phone literally bigger — the Galaxy Nexus has a 4.65″, 1280 by 720 pixel screen, which while not unprecedented, is still really big for a smartphone, and way bigger than the 3.7″ Nexus One screen.

Motorola, too, continues to treat the smartphone as the center, not periphery, of a new computing economy. It builds out its Droid RAZR with the Motoactv media player, dedicated cloud syncing and backup, and a range of docks and peripherals that all communicate with and augment the computing power of the handset.

The PC used to be the command center of your digital life; now, it’s the phone. Anything with a hardware keyboard is again relegated to the role of a specialized workstation.

But wait; what about tablets? Tablets are supposed to be the devices that bridge phones and PCs. They’re all anyone can talk about. Everybody loves tablets now:

— Apple sold eleven million iPads last quarter;

— Manufacturers tripped over themselves to pump out tablets before a tablet-optimized version of Android was even ready (and continue to do so, even though Google hemmed and hawed about making Honeycomb’s source code available);

— Amazon’s coming out with one (you probably heard about it);

— HP incited tablet fever when it slashed prices to clear Touchpad stock;

— Even global e-reading company Kobo has a brand-new Android tablet, the Vox, that will probably ship before Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

So what’s going on here? Why isn’t Google embracing this, racing to get out ahead of the tablet market, pushing the envelope on pricing and capabilities, and generally looking to disrupt the whole show?

Ultimately, tablets just aren’t that big a part of Google’s business, nor are they likely to be. Google-approved Honeycomb tablets have only sold an estimated 3.4 million devices total.

Nor have tablets been a top priority within Google for very long. Android’s head of user experience Matias Duarte told This Is My Next’s Joshua Topolsky that Honeycomb was an “emergency landing,” a crash-the-plane-in-a-cornfield attempt to stop manufacturers from shipping Android tablets with artificially up-sized smartphone builds: “Any corner we could cut to get that thing out the door, we had to.” He explains, “That’s the sole reason we haven’t open sourced it.”

Ice Cream Sandwich finally opens up pieces of the new platform to everyone, but the focus is decidedly not on tablets, at least for Duarte: “Ice Cream Sandwich is where we say ‘huh, okay, how are those changes [first introduced in Honeycomb] going to work on phones?'” It may not be until Android Jelly Bean that we see Google’s full attention turn to tablets, if then.

It may seem like I’m being harshly critical of Google or Android. Actually, I’m not. So I’ll spell it out: Google moving slowly into tablets while it focuses on smartphones makes perfect sense. It’s smart. It’s good strategy. It fits perfectly with where Google is today and how it needs to position itself tomorrow.

Tablets are overwhelmingly consumer media devices. They can do many other things, and there’s some room for very specialized devices for the enterprise market. At their broadest base, though, tablets are best for sitting on the couch and reading books or magazines, browsing the web, playing games and watching video. This is why Apple, the quintessential consumer electronics and media company, has been very successful with them. It makes money from selling the shiny package, and it makes money again from filling it up with apps and media.

It’s possible to outsource the electronics bit, but not the media bit or the consumer focus. This is why Barnes & Noble has been fairly successful with the Nook Color, and Amazon will probably be quite successful with the Kindle Fire. These companies can tailor Android for their own purposes and use them as remote digital retail outposts.

Until very recently, Google was neither a consumer electronics nor a media company. It’s a search, communications, advertising, software and services company. If you look at their existing line of applications, only a few, like Gmail, Maps or YouTube, make a lot of sense for tablets. The vast majority of their apps, from search to document editing, make much more sense on either a traditional PC, a smartphone or something like a Chromebook.

Real media companies — that is, content companies — haven’t been able to figure Google out. That, at least, is what Android chief Andy Rubin told Walt Mossberg Wednesday at the AsiaD conference.

“Google is in the very, very early phases of adding consumer products to our portfolio,” Rubin said. “The media industry didn’t see us as that. They saw us as a search company.”

Over time, that could change. The landmark Google Books agreement, now at a lawsuit-imposed standstill, could be retooled and resurrected. YouTube and Google TV may become vehicles for original or licensed content to compete with Hulu or Netflix. Google’s nascent efforts in music could really take off. And Google could continue to treat all its Android handset makers equally while continuing to use Motorola as its officially sanctioned tablet manufacturer, bringing something unique and distinctive to those devices.

Until then, Android tablets will be a solid value proposition for media retailers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Kobo, and a much less attractive one for Google itself than smartphones or even Chromebooks.

So stick with phones, Google, at least for now. You’re getting really good at this.

(CNN) — Apple rivals Google and Samsung said Friday that they have canceled the launch of a new smartphone next week to honor the death of Steve Jobs.

The press announcement for the Android phone was set for Tuesday at a wireless industry trade show in San Diego, but representatives from Google and Samsung decided Thursday night, a day after the Apple co-founder’s death, that they would postpone the event, Samsung spokesman Kim Titus said in a phone interview.

“We just felt that it wasn’t the right time to make a major product announcement while the world is still paying tribute to Steve Jobs,” Titus said. “There’s never been such an iconic figure in our industry pass away before.”

A Google spokesman said in a statement: “We believe this is not the right time to announce a new product as the world expresses tribute to Steve Jobs’ passing.” He added that the development is on schedule. Titus also said the product is on track and that the delay is related only to Jobs’ death.

Google and Samsung were expected to showcase a new Nexus phone with a curved glass screen, which would be the first to run a next-generation version of Android called Ice-Cream Sandwich. They have not set a new date for the news conference, Titus said.

Titus acknowledged that Apple and its partners are carrying on in the wake of Jobs’ death. Apple and its cellular operators began selling pre-orders for the iPhone 4S on Friday. Sprint Nextel, the newest carrier for the iPhone, announced Friday that its next-generation 4G network will debut in 120 cities by the end of next year.

“Under the current circumstances, both parties have agreed that this is not the appropriate time for the announcement of a new product,” Titus said in a statement to reporters and clients.

Despite Jobs’ public disparagement of Apple rivals, executives from Google and Samsung voiced only condolences after the technology pioneer’s death.

Google CEO Larry Page expressed his sadness at the news and said Jobs had always been an inspiration to him. He also revealed that a sick Jobs offered Page advice earlier this year when Page took over as CEO from Eric Schmidt, a former Apple board member. Sergey Brin said he and his co-founder, Page, had admired Jobs’ “vision and leadership” skills.

In comments on Apple earnings calls and at conferences, Jobs described Android as a flawed, fragmented system and lamented about how Google, once a close partner, decided to compete with Apple. In a string of legal disputes around the world, Apple and Samsung have traded assertions that they copied the other’s inventions, and both companies are trying to block the sale of each other’s gadgets.

After Jobs’ death, Samsung CEO Choi Gee-Sung said in a statement: “Steve Jobs introduced numerous revolutionary changes to the information technology industry and was a great entrepreneur. His innovative spirit and remarkable accomplishments will forever be remembered by people around the world.”

Similar statements came from other Apple competitors that Jobs had waged public wars with in the past, including Microsoft, Nokia, Research in Motion and Sony.

Tablets taking off at Mobile Expo

Posted by arnon_k On June - 3 - 2011 1 COMMENT

Tablet devices are showing clear signs of taking off locally, with major brands introducing their flagship products bundled with affordable data plans at this week’s Thailand Mobile Expo 2011.

A parade of new and first tablets from Samsung, HTC, Motorola, LG and Samart I-Mobile are now on display at the annual event running until Sunday at the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.

Intense competition from the new models has prompted Acer to slash the price of its Iconia Tab to 9,900 baht at the event from 14,900 baht.

Smartphones, meanwhile, are rising stars as well. Samsung’s Galaxy S II received a very warm response, with the pre-booking maximum of 1,000 units running out in half an hour, similar to Apple’s iPhone.

Wichai Pornpratang, the telecommunications business director at Thai Samsung Electronics, said the company expected to sell 100,000 tablets this year, with the latest 10-inch Galaxy Tab model the best-seller.

Tablet sales in Thailand are expected to top 300,000 units this year, up from fewer than 100,000 last year, he said.

Samsung is also targeting sales of 200,000 Galaxy S II smartphones for a 75% share of the local Android-based smartphone segment.

The overall smartphone market will be worth 20 billion baht this year for a 40-50% share of the total mobile market, up from 25% last year, said Mr Wichai.

In terms of volume, smartphones will account for 25% of the 13 million handsets forecast to be sold in Thailand this year, up from 8% of 12 million phones sold last year.

Nattawach Siriwongsal, the head of mobile communications marketing at LG Electronics (Thailand), said his company was showing the Optimus PAD, the first 3D Android tablet featuring 3D content and video recording. It will go on general sale by September.

HTC is also introducing its first tablet, the Flyer, priced at 21,500 baht, while Motorola has unveiled its Xoom WiFi tablet for 19,900 baht.

Teerapon Asavatitanonta, Samart I-Mobile’s assistant vice-president for commercial operations, said it was introducing its first 7-inch Android tablet, the i-Note Lite, priced as low as 7,900 baht.

The company will start selling the tablets for 5,000 baht by September to expand its 3G customer base.

Samart I-Mobile last year changed the name of its inactive I-Mobile Netplus affiliate to I-Mobile Plus, and it now focuses on the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) business.

The company is targeting 500,000 MVNO customers this year, up from 200,000 for Samart last year.

The proliferation of smartphones and tablets has prompted mobile operators to cut their data tariff plans.

Mobile leader Advanced Info Service is offering an iPhone top-up data package for the first time, while second-ranked DTAC is offering unlimited data service for 449 baht a month.

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