By Chris Velazco
It sounds like the setup to a weird, utterly geeky joke — “So Apple’s CEO calls up Google’s CEO…” — but according to a new report from Reuters, the situation is anything but. Apple (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook and Google (GOOG) CEO Larry Page have recently spent time chatting with each other over the phone, and they plan to continue doing so at least for the time being.
Exactly what the two titans of tech are talking about isn’t totally clear yet, but it’s probably safe to assume that they dispensed with the pleasantries pretty quickly.
No, these supposed conversations were all about patents — how they could they not be, given Apple’s recent legal triumph over Samsung — and Reuters’ sources pointed to the possibility of an arrangement between the respective companies that could help ease some tension:
One possible scenario under consideration could be a truce involving disputes over basic features and functions in Google’s Android mobile software, one source said. But it’s unclear whether Page and Cook are discussing a broad settlement of the various disputes between the two companies – most of which involve the burgeoning mobile computing area – or are focused on a more limited set of issues.
Truce? That’s a far cry from the “thermonuclear” approach that the late Steve Jobs prescribed, but it’s not entirely a shock to see the word bandied about — I’m sure neither company is afraid of pulling the legal trigger should it prove necessary, but words can sometimes settle issues in a way that pure legal might can’t. While it’s good to see these companies on speaking terms though, it’s hard not to imagine what would happen should these talks wind up being less than fruitful.
Consider the situation — Samsung was found to have infringed on a number of Apple’s technical and design patents, and is being asked to cough up $1.05 billion in damages. While it’s true that most of the infringements (whether you think they’re valid or not) are centered on Samsung-specific design choices, that’s not to say that Google is completely in the clear. The company was quick to point out the “most” of the patent claims in question didn’t “relate to the core Android operating system” after the landmark verdict was delivered, but that may not be such a huge issue anyway. As The Verge’s Nilay Patel adroitly points out, it may not be too difficult to design around Apple’s specific implementation of certain patents, and the newest version of Android dodges that rather nicely.
In the wake of the multi-week trial, some wondered whether or not Google would lend its collaborator a helping hand. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all — HTC sued Apple last year for infringement against patents that Google had sold to it just a week prior, and the company stepped into the midst of another copyright infringement debate when Lodsys sued 11 app developers in 2011. If Cook and Page both walk away unsatisfied, it wouldn’t be impossible to imagine Google trying to help out in one way or another.
The precedent is there, but it seems like the sort of option that Google saves as a last resort. In any case, while Apple and Google’s head honchos continue to talk things out, Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) is also reportedly gearing up for yet another legal battle. I’m not talking about the appeals process or the preliminary injunction hearing — The Korea Times reported earlier this morning that Samsung is planning to sue Apple should it release an LTE-enabled iPhone. Considering the tone of recent leaks and rumors (not to mention that there’s no way Apple would release an LTE iPad and fail to follow up with an LTE iPhone), Samsung should soon get the fight it’s looking for.