Judge sanctions Samsung for destroying evidence in Apple patent case

As momentum builds in the upcoming patent infringement trial that will see Apple and Samsung duke it out in a California courtroom, a US federal judge has sanctioned the Korean company for failing to preserve evidence related to the case.

In the suit, which was launched in April 2011, Apple accuses Samsung of infringing on its intellectual property to develop its Android-based smartphones and tablets. The case has been tried by proxy around the globe, with different judges in different territories handing down conflicting rulings.

Paul Grewal, a California magistrate judge, has granted an “adverse jury instruction” against Samsung, days before the trial is set to kick off. In other words, the trial jury will be told Samsung did not abide by its obligation to preserve relevant evidence, though it will be up to jurors to determine whether the finding is relevant to their eventual verdict.

Under Samsung’s current system, company emails are automatically deleted after two weeks, unless specifically saved by employees. But the company continued to delete email correspondence even after the case was filed, Judge Grewal found. The proprietary email system is in place to prevent confidential information from being leaked.

Judge Grewal said the company told employees to preserve pertinent emails and documents, but did not live up to its obligation to the court by failing to verify whether instructions to that effect were followed.

Though he did not accuse Samsung of intentionally destroying evidence, the company should have done more to ensure the evidence was protected, Judge Grewal said.

"In effect, Samsung kept the shredder on long after it should have known about this litigation," he wrote, recalling a similar 2004 incident during which a jury was informed that Samsung had destroyed evidence through its auto-deleting email system.

In its own defence, Samsung has pointed to an earlier International Trade Commission ruling on the same matter that found Samsung did not act wrongly but in fact “took reasonable steps” to preserve the data.

After months of hand-wringing, the case is set to go to trial next week, with jury selection kicking it off on 30 July.