Skip to main content

Samsung in big trouble after circulating secret Apple, Nokia patent documents

Samsung is in hot water after some confidential Apple patent licensing documents were made public to those inside the company.

A California judge has ordered Samsung to turn over what it knows about the mishap and the documents in question, and to make a key Samsung executive available for questioning.

At issue is Samsung and Apple's ongoing US patent battle. Between April 2011 and March 2012 - as part of the usual discovery process - Apple was required to turn over copies of its licensing deals with firms like Nokia, Ericsson, Sharp, and Philips.

The full data was only supposed to be seen by Samsung's outside counsel; only redacted versions were allowed to be seen by internal Samsung personnel so they could not use the information for professional gain.

However, data about the licensing deal Apple secured with Nokia was sent to Samsung employees in an uncensored format, giving Samsung all the details about Apple's terms.

The data was provided to at least 50 high-level Samsung executives, and posted to an FTP site that was accessible by Samsung personnel.

The judge says it's unclear if the information was intentionally or accidentally revealed, but he pointed to a 4 June 2013 meeting between Nokia's chief intellectual property officer, Paul Melin, and Samsung's Dr. Seungho Ahn. According to Melin, Ahn said he had seen the terms of the deal between Nokia and Apple, and pushed Nokia to sign a similar deal with Samsung.

"It is possible that Dr. Ahn's encounter with Mr. Melin occurred very differently. Unfortunately, the court cannot say, because Samsung has elected not to provide the court sworn testimony from Dr. Ahn or anyone else at the meeting," Judge Paul S. Grewal wrote.

Judge Grewal said Samsung has been "unable to provide evidence on even the most basic questions" about this incident. Samsung did say it would provide Apple with a log of documents associated with the transmission of the Nokia-Apple data, but it does not have plans to interview Samsung personnel about what happened, which the judge said is "inefficient."

Further, allowing Samsung and its counsel to investigate this issue on its own is unlikely to produce satisfactory results. "Rarely is the fox permitted to investigate without supervision the disappearance of chickens at the henhouse," the judge said.

As a result, the judge ordered Samsung, by 16 October, to produce all emails and communication related to this incident and to make Dr. Ahn and other Samsung employees involved in the breach available for a deposition.

Nokia will also be allowed to participate in the proceedings. Briefs from both sides are due on 21 October, ahead of a planned 22 October hearing.